February 2009

Formations lesson for March 8: What Would Jesus Say about Poverty?

February 24 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Luke 16:19-31

There are times when even we “preacher types” can’t make something too wordy. I’ll admit it doesn’t happen often, and that even when it does, we try to be verbose anyway. But even so, we can’t complicate this one.  

What Would Jesus Say about Poverty? He’d say to eradicate it, pure and simple. It is not complicated, it is not arguable, it is not even something we Baptists can disagree on. The evidence, the scriptural evidence, is just too clear.

From instructions to take a cup of cold water in “my name,” to concern for 5000-plus hungry people on a hillside, to commands to Peter to feed the lambs ... Jesus drove home the point about hunger. Make it go away.

Many will want to point out that often when Jesus spoke of “feeding” He was speaking of spiritually feeding people, not eliminating their physical need for sustenance. But while Jesus was and is far more concerned about our spiritual needs, He is not unconcerned about our physical ones.

There is another point. Jesus was a great leader. As such He understood something so simple that we often forget it. Hungry people make bad disciples. That is people whose bellies are empty won’t concentrate on filling their souls, they simply can’t. I had a basketball coach once who told me to always be “hungry for the ball.” He drove home his point by adding that he’d never seen someone with an empty stomach lose when filling their stomach was the prize. He told me that “hungry always wins.”  

If you read into my old coach’s axiom, you might want to say that hungry people do in fact make good disciples, as in those who hunger for righteousness will not lose the fight for it. While this is true, those same righteous seekers, if they are physically hungry will satisfy that need first.

The point is that we must first take care of all human need where we see it. There is no doubt this is what Jesus would have done, because it is without exception what Jesus did. And over and over again it is exactly what He told disciples then, is telling disciples now, and will disciples for all time to be busy doing.

Our “centering question” asks what Jesus would say about poverty. Jesus words ask us what we are doing about it!

2/24/2009 4:47:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 8: Prepare

February 24 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 2:1-8, 11-18
For a number of years it has been my pleasure to serve as congregational coach to several N.C. Baptists churches through the journey Pursuing Vital Ministry.

Though each congregation was unique in their settings, histories, and ministries, they each shared similarities. Regardless of ministry environment, a passionate desire to see and experience God’s will in their setting is prevalent.

Working with these congregations I sensed that they wanted to do more than influence their relevant communities — they wanted to bear witness to what God had powerfully done in their lives and what he seeks to accomplish — no matter the costs.

This insight did not come to them simply through some new, in-vogue program or theory. Instead, it developed out of seasons of continued prayer and corporate spiritual inspection. Like Nehemiah, in today’s text, each congregation had individuals sensitive to not only the changes occurring in their communities, but also to that divine unrest that seeks and discovers its respite in God’s presence and acceptance.

Nehemiah did not apathetically discard the report brought to him from his brother. He did not shrug his shoulders and discount his possible role in being used by God to bring positive change to Jerusalem’s disgraceful situation. Instead, he prayed and planned.

Nehemiah recognized that any progress he or his people would experience would have to come from God.

Any success would only be possible through divine intervention. According to the text, we see that Nehemiah’s actions were not an emotional rush to judgment.

Instead, it was cautious, courageous and visionary. He prayed to God before making a decision to approach the king.

Having prayerfully examined the problem he presented a logical, practical plan that successfully received the financial and military support of the Persian government.

Because not everyone will be supportive of the vision that the Lord gives to the community of faith, we must continue to be sensitive to God’s calling and leadership.

We must prayerfully recognize our part in the vision and involve ourselves in its actualization (2:17).

Verse 18 of today’s text describes what happens when individuals open themselves up to God’s vision and will — “So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” The Jewish leadership and “followership” all were encouraged and empowered to do what earlier seemed impossible!

They, as well as congregations today, began to envision what God had promised to His covenant people. Their journey into God’s future had begun.

2/24/2009 4:45:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for March 1: What Would Jesus Say About the Bible?

February 17 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Matthew 4:1-11

It cannot escape anyone who does much reading of the New Testament that Jesus found Himself in opposition to the religious leaders of His day consistently.  They were the enforcers of law, the bearers of the covenant, and He was the personification of grace, the “new covenant.” A distinction must be made however, to clarify where Jesus came down on the law itself, as opposed to those who (unfairly) tried to enforce it. As opposed to the self righteous as could be, Jesus sought out righteousness. As opposed to legalism as possible, Jesus understood and honored the law.

In this focal passage, on three occasions Jesus answers temptations from the devil by referring to the law.  He uses three words to summarily dismiss His tempter.  Each time Jesus says “It is written . . .”

Of course much has been made in pop culture about asking the question which has come to be symbolized by four letters, WWJD, or What Would Jesus Do? And we have begun, in church life, to turn that question on just about every subject. I saw an article not long ago asking WWJD but the “D” was for drive, not do. What Would Jesus say about the Bible? Well we are privileged to know some things Jesus actually DID say about the Bible. Of course, He would have been talking about what we know as the Old Testament, He was living out the New Testament or at least portions of it. But nonetheless, Jesus made no excuse and offered no loop hole for the law. Jesus said the law was necessary, but He also said the law was not enough.

The Bible, the one we read, has gone through centuries of scrutiny, decades of debate, and years without yielding. But when we ask the question what Jesus would say about our Bible, we need look no further than His words in our Bible for our answer. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus was and is the Living Word of God. We have a responsibility to read our Bibles, we know that. We should possess a longing to better understand the word of God as it applies to each of our lives, we are clear on that. And we should want to know what Jesus would say about everything. But we need not make this complicated.

As usual, the best way to hear what He’d say, about the Bible or anything else, is to listen to Him.

2/17/2009 5:26:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life for March 1: Be Aware

February 17 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-11
In early 1994, we (I and two first-term missionaries) traveled back into the interior of Burundi to visit churches with which I had worked closely and had experienced massive devastation from the coup d’etat that had occurred in October 1993. Our hearts ached and our spirits literally mourned as we drove through formerly populous market towns and vibrant villages now empty or worse strewn with bodies. Much like Nehemiah (1:4a), we “wept and mourned.”

Already, my wife and I (as former missionaries to Rwanda) had mourned the loss of many of our close Rwandan friends who had died in the genocide and dreaded when updates were given about the continuing situation. Words can never accurately describe the anguish and pain that is felt when confronted by such needless suffering.

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king of Persia. Though information is scanty, news arrives through his brother, Hanani that Jerusalem lies in ruin and the morale of the remnant is low and troubled. According to Josephus, neighboring tribes were continually raiding the vulnerable city. He writes, “the surrounding nations were inflicting many injuries on the Jews, overrunning the country and plundering it by day and doing mischief by night, so that many had been carried off as captives … and every day the roads were found full of corpses.”

Rather than despair, Nehemiah turns his heart towards “the God of Heaven” (1:4b) after a season of fasting and prays an incredible prayer of lamentation and confession. Recognizing the gracious fidelity of the Lord is contrasted to the personal and corporate infidelities of Nehemiah and the people of Israel. “We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses” (1:7).

The sole solution is God’s covenant response to a repentant people — “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants … give success … grant … mercy” (1:11).

Both in Rwanda and Burundi, atrocities continue and lives are lost. But even in the hostility and hopelessness, God continues to be present and acting out His will.

As one Rwandan believer has written in light of not only the genocide but the AIDS epidemic, “We meet here every day for mutual support, prayer and care giving … we are trying to give hope and assistance in the name of Christ.”

2/17/2009 5:25:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Feb. 22: When Disaster Threatens

February 10 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: 2 Chronicles 20:1-12

I am very aware of the admonition against adding to or taking away from scripture. This is meant to be neither. However, I think the first word in verse 9 of the focal passage really could be changed. If disaster comes? Shouldn’t that be when?

Open the paper, turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or log onto any news site on just about any given day and you’ll see all the disaster your eyes can handle.

From natural disaster to war and strife brought on by people’s actions to each other, it seems to me that in discussing disaster, we are almost always talking “when” and not “if.” I have a pastor friend who says if life hasn’t rained on your parade yet, you haven’t planned enough parades.

Disaster happens. It is our response to disaster then that is significant here.

In this passage, the people of Judah sought help from God for the impending disaster. And they believed.

They believed God would cause them to withstand whatever disaster came. Verse 20 reads in part: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established, believe in His prophets, and you shall prosper.

When disaster threatens, believe in God.

Believe in Him and the disaster will not be able to shake you.

Believe in His word and you will flourish. This is easy to say, but it can be harder to do.

Disaster — even the threat of it scares us. We want God to stop disasters, not walk with us through them. We want God to help us avert disaster, not help us pick up the pieces when it happens. But God doesn’t always do it the way we think He should. And so we see disaster of all types and kinds. And we know God will be with us when it comes.

Disaster strikes and it is not always a complete loss. Albert Einstein once said that there is some good in disaster, in that all mistakes are wiped out. That is true, and is good news I suppose, but as Christians we have better news. God is with us when disaster strikes. All we have to do is believe in Him and take Him at His word.

2/10/2009 4:31:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life for Feb. 22: Praying for Others

February 10 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: John 17:9-19

One of the greatest privileges I enjoy as an associational missionary and as a participant in mission projects to Quebec and Jamaica is that of intercessory prayer. At times I am daily visited by fellow believers and congregational leaders burdened with concerns and issues that often fall outside of our accumulated wisdoms and resources.

Usually a soft unspoken prayer begins these precious encounters and a joint prayer ends each session. Rather than be a polite acknowledgement of closure, prayer is that passionate recognition that the redeeming of each situation is possible alone through our Lord.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Offering intercessory prayer means nothing other than Christians bringing one another into the presence of God, seeing each other under the cross of Jesus as poor human beings and sinners in need of grace. Then, everything about other people that repels me falls away.”

On the night of his betrayal, Jesus warned his disciples that he was going to leave them. Recorded in John 17, we have the true “Lord’s Prayer.”  Here he prays for his disciples and those who would follow in faith (in the future). Here Jesus literally brings them (and us) into the very presence of the Father only moments away from being betrayed, arrested and crucified.  

In His conversation with his Father He recognizes that though He will be away from His disciples they must remain and live out His presence daily and faithfully. He thus prays for their victory over the world rather than an easy escape from the world.  He prays that they with all who would follow be united — “May they be all one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me” (17:21, 23 NJB).  He prays for their protection- “protect them from the Evil One” (17:15 NJB). And he prays for their consecration (17:17-19): set apart for a special task as his representatives to the world, and set apart to a special equipping to that task — “Consecrate them in the truth, your word is truth.”

Whenever my wife, Sharon, leaves the women of Elim Church in Jamaica and the special friendships of merchant women in the Montego Bay market area to return home, she asks them what to pray about for them.  Each time she receives a plethora of burdens and blessings.

One asked for prayer for a possible cancerous growth, another for a straying child, and still another for God’s visible manifestation for their village or parish. Never is it for financial benefits or economic status — it is for the saving, gracious presence of the Lord.

Jesus prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24).

2/10/2009 4:29:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Feb. 15: When Doing Right Brings Hardship

February 2 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

She had a flat tire. I realize you are going to ask if I really call that hardship. Well, not exactly and certainly not in comparison to the “real” hardships so many go through, especially in these days and times. But my friend was on her way to serve a meal at the local soup kitchen and homeless shelter when her left front tire blew out. Fortunately, there was not an accident, she was not hurt, and her car was not damaged beyond the tire, so again, I concede that calling this “hardship” is a bit of a stretch. She did have to get out of her car and change the tire before continuing on to do the service she felt called to. And so you can understand, if my friend, or someone in her shoes, would want to turn her face skyward and ask a question; “A flat tire on my way to serve at the homeless shelter?”

If the age old question is why bad things happen to good people, then the follow up question has to be what happens when doing the right things doesn’t have the proper effect.

And of course, immediately we see an issue. Whose perspective are we using when measuring what is “proper” or right?  

In the focal passage, the very first verse puts that into context for us.  Our treasure, the scripture says, is in “earthen vessels.” The Apostle Paul, writing here to the church at Corinth, makes a clear distinction between the human and the Divine, between the temporary and the eternal. Paul suggests that when viewed in this context, our “afflictions” are light, and last for only a moment. Interestingly, never is there even a hint that hardships won’t come, but rather that when looked at through the lens of God’s eye (as best we can anyway) we will see them differently.

My friend continued on her way that night, she changed the tire, and got to the shelter before her food was even cold. She met me and a few others from our Sunday School class, and we served many. She was a little late, and I think the grease and dust on her face wasn’t exactly a look she was going for. But standing there, serving those less fortunate, all of a sudden, her perspective changed. She was grateful instead of angry. She saw the affliction of a flat tire for what it was, temporary. And she knew that her service was of much more importance.

2/2/2009 8:12:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Feb. 15: Pray in Jesus’ Name

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

Focal Passage: John 14:12-14; 15:14-16; 16:23-26

What’s in a name? I am named after my father and our son, Marcus, is named after my wife’s great-great grandfather who fought in the Civil War and was a member of one of local churches in the 1850’s. In Rwanda and Burundi (as well as other African nations) when an individual becomes a Christian, he or she receives a new name signifying the new birth they have experienced.  

Names are more than identifying labels we place upon one another. They serve as a part of “who we are” — our personality marker. It implies an individual authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence and attributes. According to Hans Bietenhard, “The name carries will and power.”

Knowing His name is important. The Lord promises to respond when He is properly called upon. His very name is a gift of revelation and not an instrument of incantation (Bietenhard). Use of His name implies faith in Him and His power; it is a pledge of His saving presence and denotes His glory.

In the gospels, the name of Jesus denotes His divine purpose and mission. He is Immanuel — “God with us.” His name, Jesus, means “Yahweh is salvation, or Savior.” According to Bietenhard, to pray in His name (according to His will, on His commission, and with invocation of His name) is to believe that Jesus has come from the Father and that the Father hears each prayer for His sake. To pray in Jesus’ name is to become an active part of His mission.

To pray in Jesus’ name is to experience two important truths: first, it is to recognize that Jesus is present among the pray-ers. The works that He has done will be done and greater works still by those who abide in Him. Praying in His name recognizes His continuing presence among believers. Secondly, praying in His name recognizes that Jesus continues to powerfully intercede for those who pray. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him; Jesus is returning to the Father (John 14:12; 16:5) and now “anything you ask from the Father He will grant in my name” (16:23).

I was returning from teaching in Brazil and wanted to change my plane seat. When I spoke with the clerk I did not receive much help. But when I asked to check the status of my “Sky miles,” the clerk suddenly treated me differently — I was a part of the family and now better seating miraculously appeared. It was only when I asked in the name of that particular airline that I was empowered to enjoy and receive special attention.

When we pray in the name of Jesus, according to His will and His commission, we can expect an answer. As Barclay writes, “The prayer which can stand the test … in the end says, thy will be done, is always answered.”

2/2/2009 8:10:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments