December 2010

Formations Lesson for January 9: God’s Word is Dangerous

December 20 2010 by John Pond, associational missionary, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Jeremiah 20:7-9  

“The servants who faithfully show God to the world are those who live in deep, disputatious conversation with God” (Walter Brueggemann).

When the Word is liberated (unchained) and its calling is embraced by those who will responsively listen, stuff happens. Jeremiah was one who heard and responded. God spoke His word calling Jeremiah to a prophetic ministry during a crucial period in the life of Judah (Jer. 1:4 ff.) With the calling came promises of support and protection. In an earlier moment of honest conversation to God, Jeremiah describes how “your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). But, this experience turned his world upside down. Instead of victories and success, he felt abandoned and forsaken. Jeremiah was deceived and bewildered! Not only were his enemies seeking his life, but his friends had left him, hoping for his downfall (20:10).

Jeremiah discovered that God’s word is dangerous! That word, which gives life and breathes into the receptive heart both purpose and salvation, is dangerous to those who seriously grasp its truth and those who foolishly ignore its demands. I am reminded of a moment in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Upon first hearing about Aslan the children ask if he is dangerous. Mr. Beaver replies to them: “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than me or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

How earnestly Jeremiah longed for the safety of God’s presence. Literally hanging by a thread, he is desperately in need and God is nowhere to be found.

God’s word had been his word — a word of terror and judgment for God’s rebellious people. Rather than witnessing the reception of that word and sorrowful repentance, Jeremiah becomes a mockery and laughingstock — “Mr. Terror Man” (Frederick C. Holmgren). His message of violence and destruction has become a bad joke to a deaf people. And now he has had it; he officially turns in his resignation to God.

Jeremiah decides to no longer play the fool; “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name” (20:9). But, he cannot hold it back. Like a burning fire in his heart he is weakened and weary. He can only breathlessly reply, “I cannot!” Why? “Because the Lord is with me” (20:11). God’s word may be dangerous, but it is safe.             
12/20/2010 9:30:00 AM by John Pond, associational missionary, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 9: A Lifestyle in Humility

December 20 2010 by Joel Stephens, pastor, Westfield Baptist Church

Focal Passages: Luke 14:7-11; John 13:3-5, 14-15; Philippians 2:1-4  

One of my favorite writers, C. S. Lewis wrote: “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves….There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

“The vice I am talking of is Pride….According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Mere Christianity [New York: Touchstone, 1996], 109-110).

At first glance, we may want to argue with this statement. We may say, “Certainly God does not think one sin to be greater than another. A sin is a sin — pride included.” This is a true statement, but it misses Lewis’ point. He’s not arguing that pride deserves a greater penalty than other sins; he is arguing that pride is the soil in which sin mushrooms. And I think he is right.

Pride is the source of rebellion. Pride is what causes a person to think, “I know what God says, but I think…” and regardless of what finishes that thought, the sin began with “but I.” Pride is also essentially competitive. A proud man never boasts about what he has; he boasts in having more of it than others. And this is the diabolical shadow that pride casts. If pride causes me to be discontented because I am not “number one,” then I have a real problem. I will never be “number one” because God is eternally victor.

Once I realize that, I am faced with a choice. Either I must abandon my pride and surrender to Him. Or, I must choose to be His eternal enemy.

At any moment, any of us can be in the clutches of pride and scarcely know it. Humility is the prevention and the cure. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking more of others. As Paul said, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3, NKJV).  
12/20/2010 9:27:00 AM by Joel Stephens, pastor, Westfield Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for January 2: God’s Word is Inspired

December 14 2010 by John Pond, associational missionary, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: 2 Timothy 3:10-17

The story is told of Martin Luther’s early days as a young student for the priesthood in the year 1503. He was around 20 years old and involved in his studies at the University of Erfut. While doing research in the library he came across a Bible. This incident moved him deeply because it was the first time in his life he had ever handled a copy of the scriptures and the Bible was chained. Because of the possibility of someone stealing the holy book, it was chained. Robison James writes, “‘The Chained Bible’ captures something important. It is not that the Bible was so terribly neglected, though there were some of that. And it is not that the Bible was forbidden, for it was not … No, the Bible which young Luther encountered was ‘chained’ in the sense that it was hemmed in by certain preconceptions.”

It would take Luther many years of passionate study before it would break free and transform his life. The late French philosopher, Jacques Derrida once stated in an interview that “every translation is a transformation.” Paul’s words to his young friend and associate, Timothy, express this reality so vividly: “you have known (to consider for thoughtful understanding) the sacred writings that are able (to empower) to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” It is through the thoughtful considering and translating of those scriptures that one is transformed — “that the messenger of God may be proficient (competent), equipped for every good work;” i.e., “for resetting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living” (J.B. Phillips). For Timothy, the sacred writings had been liberated and allowed to breathe and thus, inspiring and breathing into him the Lord’s very “spirit of power and love and self-control” (1:7).

In today’s text, Paul challenges Timothy to remember and continue. He reminds him of his own journey of faith “my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings …” (3:10-11). Further, he reminds Timothy of Timothy’s own journey of faith — “what you have learned, firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (3:14). For Timothy, this journey began through the modeling of the “pure, sincere faith” (in the encounter of God’s breathed Word) of his grandmother and mother and the sound, life-giving words of Paul. Through the translation of God’s Word into the lives of those closest to him, Timothy has been transformed. And now through that same dynamic word Timothy translates it into his life and transforms his world.  
12/14/2010 3:33:00 PM by John Pond, associational missionary, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 2: A Lifestyle of Community

December 14 2010 by Joel Stephens, pastor, Westfield Baptist Church

Focal Passages: Ephesians 4:4-7, 14-16, 25-32  

My childhood home, as well as the house my family lives in now, are heated primarily with wood. Needless to say, I’ve built my fair share of fires over the years. I am often amazed at how a bed of coals can continue to glow with heat throughout the most frigid of nights. If you watch closely, the coals almost seem to breathe as waves of heat and flame pulsate through them. Add dry wood and a sufficient draft of air, and before long flames will dance and sway as heat billows out of the stove door.

Some years ago on one of those frigid mornings, I opened the door and found that familiar bed of pulsating coals.

Out of curiosity, I took the fire poker and rolled the biggest coal in the bunch over to the side of the firebox all by itself.

Although it was twice the size of the others, it wasn’t long before its flame flickered and it grew dark and still.

“So that’s it,” I thought. “Those coals survive the night by sharing one another’s heat.”

To check my theory, I reached over and slid it back against the rest of the sizzling coals, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before it began to smoke and crack; then it began to glow red. Soon flames leaped from it again.

It’s the same with you and me as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the coals.

As we remain connected with one another through intentional involvement in the faith community called the Church, we strengthen one another spiritually.

Together, our ‘spiritual temperature’ can remain high. We will not only survive the glacial spiritual darkness of this world, but we will radiate the light of truth. But isolated from one another our spiritual flame fades, squelched by the concerns of this life. Our lives no longer pulsate with the heat of the Holy Spirit. We become lukewarm.

The spiritual connection we enjoy in the Church of Jesus Christ is a blessing we must not take for granted. We need each other.

We were born (again), not into isolation, but into a spiritual family — God’s family.

Therefore, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NKJV).  
12/14/2010 3:29:00 PM by Joel Stephens, pastor, Westfield Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for December 26: A Voice Was Heard in Remah

December 13 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Matt. 1:13-23  

“How long must we wait, oh Lord, for you to help us?”  These were the words of a zealot-minded malcontent in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth. Roman soldiers had just raided the town of Nazareth, leaving this revolutionary no recourse but to pose a piercing question that has reverberated throughout centuries of Jewish history: “How long?” But as the shattered militant wept facedown in the Galilean dust, he never noticed the small child who emerged from the crowd to witness the unfolding scene. That child was Jesus. His village had been raided, too. 

Our scripture passage for today paints a terrifying picture. Herod has just ordered his minions to Bethlehem with instructions to kill all children two and under. Only because of a dream warning of the danger does the holy family escape the impending infanticide. Thus as soon as he is born, Jesus is hunted. 

His birth causes an upheaval in a fallen creation, as if the world is allergic to the only medicine that can make it well.

To compound matters, Herod’s cruelty is left unexplained. Instead, his viciousness serves as stinging reminder that we know little about the problem of pain, or how a benevolent and powerful God can allow the innocent to suffer.

In Zeffirelli’s film, the boy Jesus does not answer the militant’s question. In fact, his silence is deafening.

The poignancy of the scene, however, is not in the answer Jesus provides or withholds; it is in the fact that Jesus is a citizen of Nazareth as well. God has entered into the suffering of his creation, and yet no one seems to notice. While humans await an answer to their distress, God remains silent, and decides to wait with them. 

The Christmas story does not explain the problem of pain, but it does reveal how God is dealing with it. Perhaps as believers we should confront pain in a similar way. Instead of trying to rationalize or theologize human suffering to those who are hurting, what if we were just present with them? If you think about it, that’s actually a lot more difficult than passing off some hackneyed “explanation” of why God allows bad things to happen to good people.

We are surrounded by a host of hurting individuals who are asking, “How long?” They don’t need an “answer” from us; they need us to ask the question with them. Here is where we take our cue from Jesus. As the only one qualified to address the problem of human suffering, Jesus opted to stand in the crowd with us.
12/13/2010 5:45:00 AM by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for December 26: Go and Tell

December 13 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author

Focal Passage: Acts 8:26-39  

Philip shared Christ with an Ethiopian eunuch who responded, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).

But many of today’s Christians don’t share their faith, explaining, “I don’t know how.”  

I’ve discovered that very little training is needed, but ideas I’m offering may help. First, write your testimony and prepare to share it. Your testimony is unique and not arguable.

Next, purchase a tract to read along with your prospect, pointing to the words with a pen to keep all eyes focused on the same words. “Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?” by Bill Bright is my favorite tool because it helps seekers or unbelievers identify themselves spiritually, then decide whether to accept or reject Christ.

The tract’s suggested prayer to confess Christ is beautiful.

My own check list may also help:              
  • Take someone with you.
  • Decide in advance which of you will share Christ and which will listen or quietly entertain a child or pet.
  • Park on the street.
  • Don’t make your Bible visible until you’re ready to use it.
  • Wear a name tag that includes the name of your church.
  • While approaching the house, note something you can turn into conversation such as, “I believe you like boating.”
  • Ring the doorbell and step back.
  • When someone responds, smile, introduce yourself and your partner, state the name of your church and your purpose for coming.
  • If invited in, sit in chairs, leaving the sofa for your prospects. This enables you to join them when you’re ready to share. 
  • Always ask permission. For example: “May I sit beside you and share how you can know you’ll wake up in heaven when you die?”
  • Make eye contact by looking only into one of the person’s eyes. Attempting to look into both eyes can suggest shiftiness or hidden agenda.
  • Should objection arise, deal with it in a manner that shows you’re not threatened by it and return to the discussion.
  • Throw out the net. Invite them to receive Christ.
  • After they pray to receive Christ, share the benefits of belonging to a church and invite them to visit yours.
  • Should they respond negatively, don’t bruise the fruit. Leave a friend behind.
  • Finally, expect someone in heaven to say, “Thanks. I’m here because of you.”  
12/13/2010 5:42:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Dec. 19: Where is the Child?

December 1 2010 by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Matt. 1:1-12  

Have you ever attended a church that used an alarm system? I certainly understand the reasoning behind such security measures, but I sometimes fantasize about asking a church why an alarm system is necessary. “Because we need to keep would-be thieves out of the church,” might be the response.

To which I would love to counter, “Why keep the thieves out? Church is exactly where they need to be!”

Sure, such a hypothetical exchange is nonsensical, but if you stop and think, I bet you know of a church that has unwittingly adopted an “alarm system” mentality. Stated another way, you probably know of a church with semi-permeable walls: friends are let in, strangers are kept out.

The magi of Matthew’s birth narrative were strangers in a foreign land.

Unfortunately, during the Christmas season their story is often recounted with such cuteness that we may fail to discern how spectacular such a visit would have been. Only Matthew’s gospel, written for a Jewish audience, records the visit of these mysterious gift-bearing magi, who were, among other things, Gentiles! These magi were not part of the Jewish religious establishment, they looked and spoke differently than the Judean natives, and their customs may have made them stand out in a crowd.

Nevertheless, they were searching for Jesus, even before they knew who He was.

How many people outside the church are searching for someone they’ve yet to meet?

More importantly, how are we as Christians helping strangers find the one they seek?

Are we a welcoming community that is not intimidated by differences in culture or custom, or do we make a preemptive attempt to sort out the wheat from the tares, the friends from the foes?

Forgive me for the disturbing image, but instead of having “alarm system” churches, what if we had churches that were more like roach motels? You know, easy to get in, but hard to get out. Again, it’s a silly idea, but perhaps it’s also crazy enough to work.

What if churches readily included strangers into the fold, rather than sounding the “intruder alert”?

What if congregations made visitors seem so welcome and accepted that these “outsiders” hated having to leave? Such a concept is certainly not novel, for Jesus himself was intently concerned with the plight of the stranger, the outcast, and the marginalized (e.g. the entire Gospel of Luke).

The story of the magi reminds us that, even as a newborn, Jesus was a magnet for outsiders.

As Christians, can we describe ourselves the same way?  
12/1/2010 4:34:00 AM by Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Dec. 19: Focus on Jesus

December 1 2010 by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author

Focal Passages: Luke 2:8-20, 33-35  

When I share Christ, I neither mention my being a minister’s wife nor do I discuss the church. Instead, I focus on Jesus and explain how to become a Christian. When people receive Christ, I encourage them to find a church and begin to grow spiritually.

As Jesus commanded His followers to go into all the world with the Good News of Christ, He included you and me (Matt. 28:19-20). I can’t pass my responsibility on to someone else. (Billy Graham doesn’t live on my street.)

Not everyone will accept the gospel message, but we can’t use their opposition as an excuse not to share Christ. Like the shepherds of old, you and I have a testimony to share, and the Christmas season is an ideal time to share our faith because hearts and minds are more open to Jesus than at other seasons of the year.

The shepherds in our Scripture were lowly men, perhaps unable even to read and write, yet they became powerful witnesses for Christ.

Imagine their sharing the drama of that first Christmas service where they formed the small congregation on a Judean hillside.

The preacher, an angel of the Lord, appeared and delivered the shortest sermon perhaps ever preached: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (v. 9-12).

Suddenly the choir appeared and burst forth with the anthem: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men” (v. 13-14).

The shepherds responded to the sermon, saying, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us” (v. 15). That’s witnessing — sharing what we have experienced concerning Christ and leaving the results to God.

Father, Your ways are higher than ours, for who among us would have planned the first Christmas service as You did?

Warm our hearts, Lord, and send us forth like the shepherds, glorifying and praising You. In the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, amen.    
12/1/2010 4:32:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Raleigh speaker, author | with 0 comments