December 2009

Formations Lesson for January 10: Jesus Revealed at His Baptism

December 31 2009 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 

Since the days of Malachi, the people had not heard a prophetic word from the Lord. John the Baptist broke the silence. Speaking like a prophet of old, John delivered God’s message. Great throngs came to the Jordan Valley to hear his preaching and to accept his “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3).

John made it clear that by repentance he meant no mere declaration or ceremony, but that each person must genuinely turn from their sin. Though its literal Greek meaning is “change of mind,” the New Testament usage of “repentance” carries the idea of conversion, a turning to God and away from sin.

Some of those influenced by John’s ministry began to wonder if he might be the Messiah. John resolutely pointed people instead to the one whose ministry would follow his. As Karl Barth suggested, John the Baptist was content to be a signpost pointing others to Jesus.

Why did Jesus, the sinless Son of God, submit to John’s baptism of repentance? John knew enough to realize that Jesus did not need the forgiveness of sin, and therefore needed no sign of repentance. But Jesus insisted, choosing to place Himself alongside all of the sinful ones for whom John’s baptism was ordained.

What an incredible act of humility!

The King became the obedient servant to identify with His people. He who knew no sin obediently took on the sinful plight of all people.

What a role reversal our obedience in baptism becomes! Our humility in acknowledging our need for Christ’s redemption and following Him in baptism leads us not to identify with one far below us, but one far greater than us!

At Jesus’ baptism, “the heaven was opened” (3:21). The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism. In baptism, Jesus yielded Himself to His appointed service and God’s power descended upon Him. He had identified Himself with the sons of men, and now He was assured anew that He was the Son of God as He heard a voice from heaven say: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (3:22b). With these words, it is revealed that God’s best thought and purpose were expressed in Jesus.

We see revealed in Jesus’ baptism His identification with fallen humanity, His empowerment to serve God, and the seal of His kingship and servanthood. Verse 23 states, “Now Jesus…began His ministry.” Baptism is a beginning, the start of our journey with sisters and brothers of faith that will take us only God knows where!  
12/31/2009 3:19:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 10: Wrestling with Time

December 31 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Everything has its moment (its hour); a rhythm and significance to the beginning and end of all occurrences. Shakespeare writes, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

I recall the fascination I experienced in Greek class when introduced to the concepts of kairos and chronos when describing time. Kairos can be understood as qualitative or meaningful time, and chronos (like chronology) as quantitative or measured time. During our time in eastern Africa we learned how to distinguish between these two Greek terms. Whereas in the west we define our activities according to our daily planners measured in terms of minutes, hours and days, etc. Africans measure in terms of events, rightness of the moment and its appropriateness for the community. 

African theologian and philosopher, John Mbiti observes, “time is simply a composition of events which have occurred, those which are taking place now and those immediately to occur … it is something which falls within the rhythm of natural phenomena.” 

For example, this was especially evident when attending worship in Rwanda and Burundi.

For us as westerners, worship begins at 11 a.m. and ends at noon each Sunday morning. Worship in Africa (and other third world cultures) begins when the Spirit moves and ends when the Spirit leads; that is, when the time is right. Thus, services may last four to five hours.

The Preacher, or Qoheleth states that to everything there is a chronos and a kairos, a fixed moment and a propitious time in a rhythmic chant singing of the spaciousness of life and its wide expanse of experiences and opportunities. Though he seems to imply that humankind has no freedom in the face of this inevitability of “natural phenomena” there is still the reality that “He has made everything beautiful (excellent and appropriate) in its time” (3:11a).

“He has put eternity into man’s mind” (3:11b, RSV). What a thought!

We are all children of time and as such we seem never to have enough of it. Genesis 1:26-27 describes humanity as bearing the image of God and perhaps part of that image is the sense of eternity God has placed within our hearts (and minds). 

O.S. Rankin writes,“It is the desire for another dimension of existence, a dimension of fulfillment and assuagement; a dimension of sufficient for the needs of love and the challenge of truth; sufficient for us to become the selves we were meant to be, for the continuity of dear comradeship, and the prophetic hunger of human hearts. The sense of the eternal is ours from the sources from which our very being is drawn; God has put eternity into man’s mind-and heart.”  
12/31/2009 3:15:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for January 3: Jesus Revealed to the Wise Men

December 23 2009 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: Matthew 2:1-12

As a young and enthusiastic pastor in my first church, I readily agreed to fill in for one of the Wise Men in our church’s live nativity scene. There in the cold I stood wearing an ornate bathrobe and a decorated lamp shade, having a sneezing fit because my fake beard was tickling my nose. It was not quite as glamorous as I had pictured while going to my destination singing We Three Kings of Orient Are.

In truth, these men probably did not live a very glamorous life. They were not kings, but something like astrologers — stargazers who studied the skies to gain insight into what was happening on earth. They were seekers of wisdom who consulted esoteric sources. The Bible actually tells us next to nothing about them. The word translated “Wise Men” or “Magi” is plural, so we know that there was more than one.

The Bible does not tell us there were three; we reach that conclusion because they had three gifts. We do know they were definitely not from Palestine, and they were not Jews.  They were from “the East” (probably the area we know today as Iraq) and were Gentiles, outsiders who were not included in God’s covenant with Israel. At the beginning of this New Year we gain something valuable if we reclaim the gospel truth that Christ’s coming means the walls have come down; the door is opened to all, and the church that is to be gathered around Christ makes no distinctions because of race, gender, or social standing.

Obviously, something out of the ordinary was driving these men while journeying, as T.S. Eliot mused in his poem The Journey of the Magi, into inhospitable towns, wondering if their whole journey was nothing but folly. When the Wise Men came to Herod’s court at Jerusalem inquiring where the king of the Jews was to be born, the priests and scribes knew the answer because they knew the Bible — Bethlehem.

So the Wise Men headed there, only six miles from Jerusalem. But the priests and scribes did not go with them. As Søren Kierkegaard said; “What a difference! The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it moved them to make the long journey. The scribes were much better informed, much better versed. They sat and studied the Scriptures…but it did not make them move. Who had the more truth?” (Søren Kierkegaard, “Only a Rumor,” Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, p. 289).

How faithful have we been in our responses to Jesus’ revelation?
12/23/2009 2:01:00 PM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 3: Wrestling with the Meaning of Life

December 23 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passages: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; 12:13-14

In 1514, German Renaissance painter, Albrecht Durer, produced one of his most famous engravings, Melancholia. This work of art, though extensively interpreted, is a picture of the state of melancholy. One sees the figure of an angel, gazing, sitting heavy with head weighing on his left hand. Around the figure are evidences of wealth, wisdom, and “on the horizon the splendour of a landscape composed of water, mountain, city, and forest” (Jean-Luc Marion).

It appears that all that could satisfy and complete is lost in the hollow gaze toward a vanishing point that cannot be grasped. Many feel that perhaps Melancholia is Durer’s spiritual self-portrait. Regardless, it is a picture of one saturated with the resources and experiences of this life, yet always gazing beyond to that ungraspable something that lies beyond the horizon.

And so observes also Qoheleth (which is the Hebrew name used coming from a word meaning to assemble or gather), or the Preacher (1:1). Like Durer’s figure, this individual saturated with all that life offers and all that can be obtained, gazes out onto his kingdom and can not see what truly satisfies or completes — “Vanity of vanities! Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”

That is, like a vapor, breath, or a condensation, all is absolute aimlessness, emptiness, and transitoriness. The constant repeating of the term vanity emphasizes the superlative degree of that condition. Further, note the superlative effect of this vanity upon reality: “All! Vanity! (there is no verb in the Hebrew text),” “all his labor” (1:3), “all things are full of weariness” (1:8 RSV). “The world for him is suspended by the breath of vanity” (Marion).

The remainder of the text (and book) paints a picture of monotony and purposelessness. The wheel of time and process turns, but in the end nothing has changed or novelty is a whisper of steam on a windy day. He states, “Whatever has happened is what will occur, and whatever has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9 RSV).

One senses an air of disillusionment and despair in the midst of great wealth and success. But, is that the end of the story?  Echoing Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Second century BC Jewish writer, Ben Sirach, writes, “Though we speak much we cannot reach the end, and the sum of our words is: ‘He is all’” (Sirach 43:27).

Thus, the end of the story is God — “Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is everything for humankind” (Norbert Lohfink). That is, when we know the Lord, we come to know ourselves; when we believe God, the very riches of the treasures of God, humankind and the world are opened up (Walter Kaiser Jr.).  
12/23/2009 1:58:00 PM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for December 27: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

December 15 2009 by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin

Focal Passage: John 1:1-18

John’s gospel begins with the theological heart of the Christmas message: “And the Word became flesh” (v.18). With these startling words, the incarnation is reality.

The beginning point for this amazing discussion echoes the words and the content of Genesis 1:1 as translated in the Septuagint, the Greek scriptures of the Old Testament.

It states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

In John 1:1-3 we discover that not only was the Word, the logos, with God but that the Word was the direct agent of all creation.

“All things came into being through Him” is the positive statement.

The negative statement affirms the same truth: “And apart from Him nothing came into being that has now come into being.”

Existence itself is due to the work of Jesus Christ the logos.

This work of Christ is revealed in two metaphors that will reoccur throughout John’s gospel: life and light.

These metaphors highlight the primal words of God, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3-19) and underscore its relationship to all that came into being (Gen. 1:20-31).

Life and light go together as creation unfolds.

Through it all, the Creative Word of God acts as the direct agent giving life and light even in the midst of the “darkness.”

The “darkness” holds no power over the Word of God, the incarnate Christ. He is Light and the darkness is dispelled.

In God there is no darkness (1 John 1:5) and so too in Christ there is no darkness (1 John 1:7). The darkness is sin and those who refuse to acknowledge and deal with their own sin only achieve self-deception (1 John 1:8-10).

The light of the Incarnate Word represents moral integrity (John 1:5). 

It is a light that can “enlighten” every person. It has the capacity to give the person a new heart, a new mind, a new perspective, and a new future.

The focal passage, however, points out the rejection of this Incarnate Word.

The phrases of rejection are found in the statements “the world did not know Him” (v. 10) and “His own did not receive Him” (v. 11).

By “receiving” the Incarnate Word and “believing” on Him, receivers/believers are empowered to “become (the) children of God” (v. 12-13).

Hence the only-begotten Son of God becomes the agent through which others become the adopted children of God.

The witness given of this Light is none other than John the Baptist who testifies of the Light and declares that one mightier than he will come, one who existed, in fact, prior to John himself: “for He existed before me” (v. 15).  
12/15/2009 5:58:00 AM by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for December 27: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

December 15 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Philippians 2:5-11

Not only do the gospels contain early Christian hymns and songs, but also there are numerous found in the writings of Paul and John. Our text from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is believed to be a hymn of confession sung during a baptismal service. The heart of the hymn is the powerful confession; “Jesus Christ is Lord!” which comes at the climax of the adoration of Christ “as all creatures throughout the universe bow down and submit to His dominion” (Ralph Martin) to the glory of God the Father.

How appropriate to sing this first century hymn to the humiliation (self-renunciation) and exaltation of Jesus Christ. Though one would not associate this passage to Christmas hymnody, it does present an account of the simplicity/humility of Christ in his coming (emptying himself of his divinity) which ultimately leads to the cross and his subsequent exaltation by God.

There have been many good and wise people who have tried to be instruments of positive change for this world, promising benefits and blessings that merely change the external without bringing true redemption and spiritual liberty. God, in Christ Jesus did; He stooped down to earth and became that means of salvation to all creation.

Theologian Paul Tillich writes, “Even the greatest in power and wisdom could not more fully reveal the heart of God and the heart of man than the Crucified has done already.  Those things have been revealed once for all. ‘It is finished.’ In the face of the Crucified all the ‘more’ and all the ‘less,’ all progress and all approximation are meaningless. Therefore we can say of Him alone: He is the new Reality; He is the end.” He is Lord!

Christmas is more than what occurred in Bethlehem and later, Nazareth. It is more than shepherds, wise men, a manger and angelic hosts (though each is an important part of that story). It is about the long-expected One, the promised Child born of a virgin, the Dayspring, the pre-existent One who emptied himself of that divine equality, that “morphe” (form as in unchangeability) of God that took on the “schema” (form as in outward changeability) of humanity.

Christmas is the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Lord and the coming time when all creation will worship him who the shepherds, wise men, and angels worshipped.

“Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord;
“Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity!
“Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.
“Hark, the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King.’”  
12/15/2009 5:55:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for December 20: Angels, from the Realms of Glory

December 2 2009 by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin

Focal Passage: Luke 1:26-38

The birth announcement of John the Baptist (1:13) and the birth announcement of Jesus in today’s focal passage are often seen through the parallel lens that Luke provides. One rare glimpse of that lens is the fact that neither Zechariah and Elizabeth nor Joseph and Mary are praying for a baby in the moment of the announcement.

Neither have the baby beds ready. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, on the one hand, their prayers have gone unanswered for years and so they have given up hope of a child.

For Joseph and Mary, on the other hand, it is not time yet for a child to be expected. It is far too early.

They must wait and be patient until the time is right. For both couples it is not the right time to have a child. Too late! Too early!

When God speaks one can feel overwhelmed and inadequate.

The task is too difficult, the time is not right, and certainly there is no way that one can do this.

Doubts arise and one wants to run away and hide. Running is the story of Elijah and Jonah and countless others.

How would you feel if God asked you to build an ark that would hold the animals? How would you feel if God asked you to go and bring a multitude of slaves to freedom just like Moses?

Mary follows her faith and proclaims, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

There are three parts to Mary’s reply:

First, she states that she is available. “Here am I.”

How many good things are missed because of absence?

Showing up
is half the battle. 

Second, Mary identifies herself as a servant, literally a slave of the Lord.

A slave, or doulos, “at the time of Jesus was . . . a lower level of humanity.”

By law the slave was classed with immobile goods, had no rights at law and could not own property.

Even his family did not belong to him; it was the property of the master . . . In the Rabbis, therefore, the word slave constitutes one of the worst insults one man can hurl at another; it was not for nothing that a man might be excommunicated for calling his neighbor a slave” (Gerhard Kittle, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2, 271-272).

Third and finally, Mary trusts herself to the “word of the Lord.”

After all, it was the Word of the Lord that brought the world into existence!

What is God asking you to do this Christmas season?             
12/2/2009 6:40:00 AM by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for December 20: Go, Tell It on the Mountain

December 2 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Luke 1:67-79

My wife, Sharon, describes in her book, Getting to the Other Side the first Christmas we spent in Rwanda.

In a chapter entitled “Drums” she writes: “They begin at the stroke of midnight, when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day.

“They go on in the darkness and continue as the world gets light.

“They sound all of Christmas Day until the stroke of midnight Christmas night.”

That first Christmas in Butare, Rwanda, I thought that the sound of the drums beginning in the darkness of midnight was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard in my life.

The drumming was the Rwandan’s way of announcing to the villages on the hills the birth of Jesus Christ.

She later tells how for the Rwandan people it was a great honor to be allowed to beat the drums.

In the gospels we read of numerous individuals who were allowed a place in the birth narrative of Jesus.

In Luke’s account we are given the added pleasure of hearing the songs of praise that were sung on that first Christmas morning.

One of those pieces has traditionally been called “Benedictus (or Blessed),” the song of Zechariah, father to John the Baptizer.

Though his part in the account seems to be marginal to Jesus’ birth, it is an important part.

Like the drummers of Rwanda he has been given the privilege of drawing everyone’s attention toward “the Dayspring, or Dawn” which will break upon us from on high (1:78).

His own son, John, as prophet of the Most High, will “go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (1:76).

Zechariah praises the Lord for responding to the desperate cries of His people.

He prophesies, “For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke … from long ago” (1:69-70).

This horn, used by animals to attack and defend, symbolizes the power and protection of Messiah.

He praises God for his own newborn son who would one day point all Israel to God’s Messiah.

He praises God for the hope and peace that will come to a world in crisis, anxious and fearful, through His tender mercy, giving light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

And so, to the amazement of those around him, the former voiceless Zechariah, now filled with the Holy Spirit, beats (drums!) the air with impassioned voice, testifying of this miraculous event that would transform the world — “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!”
12/2/2009 6:37:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for December 13: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

December 2 2009 by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin

Focal Passage: Luke 2:8-20

The rural farmer was the backbone of America’s past. In 1935 there were 6.8 million farms in America. Today 2.1 million farms remain. 

Forty-six thousand farms account for 50 percent of agricultural sales.

In 1870 a single worker could tend 27.5 acres, while today the average farm worker tends 740 acres.

Likewise, the Palestinian shepherd was the backbone of ancient Israel.

One recalls the sacrifice of 120,000 sheep, as well as 22,000 oxen, at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8:63).

That’s a lot of sheep! The shepherd was a part of Israelite history and ritual: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, KJV).

John the Baptist declares, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36).

Jesus is called the good shepherd — the Messiah (John 10:10-11, 14-18, 26-30). 

Jesus challenges Peter to feed his sheep (John 21:15-17). The leaders of the church are called shepherds (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).

This passage begins and ends with the shepherds in their fields, keeping watch over their flock.

Yet something wonderful happens between verse 1 and 20. Verse 1 underscores an ordinary day of work.

By verse 20 the shepherds are filled with joy, praising and glorifying the Lord. Why?

Because they had heard and seen something which moved them deeply! How long has it been since you were moved deeply to praise and glorify the Lord?

Fear is the first response to the angel. The coming of an angel may bring judgment (Gen. 18) or good news (Luke 1:13, 31). This coming means good news for everyone (2:10). 

The Messiah is born in Bethlehem! The good news echoes through a “multitude of heavenly host, praising God” (2:13-14).

Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Hark the herald angels sing,” recreates the scene in music.

Charles Talbert affirms, “When the angels sang of the benefits of Jesus’ lordship, they sang both glory to God and peace to men — one song, heralding a dual benefit of the Messiah’s birth” (Reading Luke. Smyth and Helwys, 36).

The discomfort of laying a new-born infant in a manger — an animal’s feeding unit, becomes a sign to the shepherds that this is indeed the Christ child (2:7, 12, 16). Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh suggest that “the manger would have been the normal place for peasant births” (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Fortress Press, 1992, 296).

“Swaddling refers to tightly binding the trunk and limbs of the baby in cloth . . . to keep their limbs straight” (296; Cf. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Eerdmans, 1978, 106).

The young mother Mary treasures the shepherds’ words while meditating on their meaning.             
12/2/2009 6:34:00 AM by Victor Lyons, Academic Dean, Foothills Christian College, Wilkesboro; Pastor, Union Cross Baptist Church, Elkin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for December 13: Joy to the World

December 2 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Luke 1:46-55
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her king; Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.”

One of three hymns contained in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth, this song, traditionally called the “Magnificat (magnify or praise) of Mary,” exalts the God who promises, fulfills those promises and sustains those who believe. She praises Him for His care for her (1:46-49) and for others (1:50-55). In her response of jubilant praise to the reality of the promised child she is carrying, Mary voices what one has called the “most revolutionary document in the world.” 

It was revolutionary because she saw herself as God saw her. Recognizing her low status and the seriousness of her condition socially, she can only rejoice in God her Savior. Thus, regardless of perceived circumstances or self-image, God is merciful to those who fear him, sustains those who hunger and lifts up those of lowly position.

It was revolutionary because God sees us as we are and responds in power and mercy. He eliminates the world of titles and classes. Regardless of status or estate, God remembers his mercy and responds with His faithful love (1:54). Isaac Watts captures the thought where he writes, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

It was revolutionary because God has broken the silence and spoken His word of grace and salvation to all who will listen and believe. What was promised to an aging couple (Abraham and Sarah) is fulfilled and truly that is joy!

William Barclay tells the following story: Muretus was a wandering scholar of the middle ages. He was poor. In an Italian town he became ill and was taken to a hospital for waifs and strays. The doctors were discussing his case in Latin, never dreaming he could understand. They suggested that since he was a worthless wanderer they might use him for medical experiments. He looked up and answered them in their own learned tongue, “Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.”

“Joy to the world! The Savior reigns!”

Oh, that we would join our hearts and voices with Mary and exalt He who has given us the greatest gift of all — His Son, who “rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.”

Joy to the world!

Perhaps when we have experienced the revolutionary significance of Christ’s birth as Mary did, we would sing those words with passion and power.  
12/2/2009 6:31:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments