January 2009

Formations lesson for Feb. 8: When All Seems Lost

January 28 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14

The focal passage of scripture for this lesson is a letter, written by Jeremiah to a group of people who were being “carried away in captivity” from Jerusalem. The King, Nebuchadnezzar, has had the elders, priests, and prophets all carried away into captivity. Now the working title of the lesson is when all “seems” lost.  I am not sure about you, but for me, once the carrying away begins it isn’t a “seems” situation any more. Nope, at that point we have crossed over to the “all is actually lost” arena.

The word of the Lord, as delivered by the prophet is almost a “don’t panic” message. God insists that the children of Israel build houses, take wives, beget sons, and seek the peace of the city they are being carried to. I expect this message wasn’t met with a hearty “you betcha.” If I had been among them, I’d have been screaming that it was exactly the time to panic.

All seems lost? No all is lost, and the word of the Lord is “don’t panic.”  Recent days and times from financial markets to the housing situation show an “all is lost” state of affairs. We don’t want people to tell us not to panic; we want them to give us a reason we shouldn’t. In the matters of finances and housing, that isn’t happening. In fact we are being told the worst may be yet to come. All is not only lost, but some of what might have come to us eventually is now being lost too.  

But with God, it is never quite this way.

You see what we must realize is the fallacy in my earlier presumption, that there comes a point at which we cross over from all seeming to be lost, to where all actually is. With God all is never lost. With God there is always hope.

In verse 14 of the focal passage, God’s words are words of that hope. I will gather you back together, I will bring you from the far place, I will be found by you . . . not I might, not I could, but I will: A definitive statement from which we must take hope. Even when all seems lost, it isn’t. Even when all feels lost it cannot be, not with God.  

When all seems lost we must only remember to turn to the God of hope, with whom all is never lost.

1/28/2009 3:00:00 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. 8: Pray Persistently

January 28 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Matthew 15:21-28; Luke 18:1-8

Concerning prayer, Kierkegaard tells the following story:
An ancient pagan, who in pagandom was renowned and praised for his wisdom, sailed on the same ship with a wicked man. When the ship was in distress the wicked man lifted up his voice in prayer, but the wise man said to him: “Keep quiet, my friend; if heaven discovers that you are on board, the ship will go under.”

French philosopher/theologian Jacques Ellul once wrote, “Faith is not a place of refuge for passive souls; it implies the will to change the world.” Faith lives in the language world of risks and courage. It is best seen in our individual prayer expressions.

We pray prayers of burdened requests and impassioned pleas. Our prayers are in effect longings for divine activity and alteration in those events that appear hopeless and pointless (whether it be illness, economic instability or guidance). Enveloped by a sense of abandonment we pray for intervention and respite.

Sadly, our prayers can become self-contained rather than kingdom-focused.

Today’s lesson examines the faith and persistence of two women.  One is described as a “Canaanite,” and the other a Jewish widow. The Canaanite woman came from a culture renowned for its wickedness and depravity. She was not a Jew or proselyte of the Jewish faith, yet she recognized who Jesus was.  With the little light she may have possessed, she exercised “great faith.” Against all odds, she persisted courageously and humbly, reverently and respectfully seeking a miracle from God. She wanted her world (and that of her sick daughter) changed, even if all that remained were the leftover crumbs of the gospel — that was more than enough!  

The second woman was a widow seeking redemption and vindication (over a legal matter) from a very unsavory judge. Poor and defenseless, her only resource was uncommon persistence. She would not give up, regardless of the cost of time and energy. Her persistence was as intense as a “punch in the face” (the judge feared that she would exhaust or give him a black eye if he did not respond to her). Of such is the kingdom of God, for “it is necessary always to pray and not to lose heart.”  

“But when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?” That is, when he comes will he find a people risking all for the sake of the kingdom, trusting the Lord’s answer knowing it means courageous change and not passive refuge?

1/28/2009 2:59:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Feb. 1: Meeting God through Worship

January 21 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 12:1-6

She was “pretty sure” she left it on the counter in the dressing room.  

“Pretty sure?” I asked.

“Well kinda pretty sure,” my nine-year-old daughter responded.

We had finished a show of The Nutcracker that she and I both were in and she had taken her latest handheld video game to play during the “down time.” Knowing how much that game console cost, I wanted to make sure we got it back. We had turned around after only a few minutes on our way home from the theater, and when we got back, the stage doors were still open. She ran in, and I waited. And waited . . . and waited. The longer I sat the more I was sure we weren’t going to find the video game on the dressing room counter no matter how “pretty sure” we were we had left it there.  

Sure enough in a few moments more, my daughter walked out, tears in her eyes and said that she couldn’t find it. I did my daddy-best to console her, but I wanted her to learn a lesson at the same time. I took her for an ice cream and we sat and talked about responsibility, consequences, and how she might earn enough to replace the now lost game system. As we left the ice cream shop, my daughter turned and said, “Daddy, even if you are disappointed in me, I still love you. Thank you, Daddy, for helping me through this.”

Of course I melted, but that isn’t the point. In Isaiah 12, the prophet speaks of praising God because even though God was angry, He turns it away to comfort His children. We are to praise God at all times. We will, inevitably, disappoint Him. It is our condition as humans. But even in that forgiveness needing state, we must praise.

The next night, one of Grace’s friends and fellow performers came running up to her as we approached the theater. Seems she had mistakenly picked up Grace’s game, and was delighted to return it. Grace’s eyes filled up with tears, and she was as relieved as I have ever seen her. But she came to me and said, “Daddy, I am glad we found it, I really am. But thanks for letting me know things would be OK if we didn’t.”

Isaiah says that the “Holy One of Israel” who is in our midst is great. He is, and it will be OK. But we should offer Him praise even when our feeble minds can’t figure out how it will be.

1/21/2009 5:19:00 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. 1: Pray Confidently

January 21 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Psalm 86:1-13

Last October I was part of a mission project in the small community of Elim in St. Elizabeth parish of Jamaica.  The main objective of the project was to provide health education and blood pressure analysis for one of the most poverty-stricken areas on an otherwise Caribbean island paradise. With a healthcare focus the team also provided preaching, counseling and Bible teaching.

One of the images that stand out most vividly is the experience of worship. At each service the congregation would sit quietly until “the moment” at which time the worship leader began to sing and they would join in (unaccompanied by musical instruments). The songs would express  heartfelt burdens and prayers to the Lord rejoicing in assured answers and hope. The team witnessed a people deprived of all physical and material resource confident in the spiritual (and physical) resources that only Creator and Covenant God could provide. Like their songs, their prayers continued that intimate conversation of confident trust and humble conviction.

Psalm 86 reminds me of the Jamaican believers. Unlike many psalms in the Psalter, 86 is a unique statement of confident faith in the face of doubt and immediate threat. According to George A.F. Knight, almost every line of this psalm is a quotation from the other psalms or from the Torah (there are around 40 quotations). Yet, the true purpose of the poem is to deliberately praise the Lord. It is a medley of remembered songs and promises that come to mind “in the day of trouble” even when there is no sign of an answer, “You are my God.”

David is alone and seemingly helpless — “poor and needy.” Though consciously aware of his own failings, he still knows and asserts that “You are good and forgiving, abounding in love to all who call on you.”  “Overwhelmed with his trouble” (Knight) he clings to the very hem of God’s presence because he knows that God answers and comforts.

How does one respond when God manifests His presence and grace?  “Teach me your way, O Lord” in order that I may manifest fidelity even as you are faithful. He prayerfully asks, “Unify my heart, though disintegrated by sin and doubts, to fear your name!” David is asking (like our Jamaican family) for a God-given and God-bathed beginning to his (and their) crumbling world. “Show me a sign … because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”

“Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite” (Thomas Ken).

1/21/2009 5:17:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 25: Meeting God through the Spirit

January 16 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 11:1-9

“How much do you trust the Holy Spirit?”

I wasn’t even sure I heard the question right or not, but either way I had no answer. I was with a group of people from my church at a retreat weekend that was supposed to be about church growth and avoiding a decline, or ending a plateau on which so many churches like ours sit. We were supposed to be talking demographics and socio-economics.  How much do I trust the Holy Spirit? What kind of question was that?

Well, a really good one actually. You see the way we meet God in our world is through His Holy Spirit. We need to know how much we trust this Comforter of God.  

In Isaiah, we find that the “earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord” through the Spirit.  

Normally, talk about “spirits” and “ghosts” makes us nervous. It leaves too many things open and leaves our belief subject to the mystical whims of any who claim to see or hear from such.  How do we know when the “Spirit” we are dealing with is that of God — when it is the Holy Spirit? Well the prophet says that if the results of communication through the spirit are righteousness, that is a good place to start. He uses words like faithfulness and might. He speaks of this Spirit as being “the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.”    

Perhaps not as concrete a definition as we might hope for, but not completely ambiguous either. When we meet God through the Spirit, we meet righteousness face-to-face. When we go to God through His Spirit, we come in contact with the fear of the Lord.  

Isaiah spoke of a branch of the root of Jesse, which of course we know was and is Jesus. And when Jesus spoke of giving us a means to God, He spoke of a Comforter. There is no science to it. There is no exact way to know.  It is almost something you just have to feel.  

And something we must trust.  

How much do you trust the Holy Spirit?

Enough to come to God through it alone?

1/16/2009 5:00:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Jan. 25: Receive New Life

January 16 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Acts 16:13-18, 25-34

My wife, Sharon, has a special missional passion — the women of Jamaica, especially of the Elim community in St. Elizabeth’s parish. Through a former pastor in our association who has visited the Elim area numerous times, she took part in an evangelistic project. During the time of her first visit she heard the Lord speak to her about the women of Jamaica.

Since that first encounter, the Lord has continued to reveal deeper needs and challenges that make life difficult and at times dangerous for the women of this parish. I believe that Sharon’s “Macedonian call” was truly her “Jamaican call.”

Paul experienced such a call as he attempted to continue his missionary journeys. What began in one tenuous direction catapulted him in another direction — to Macedonia or Europe. Paul quickly obeyed the call and entered Philippi.

Three principle individuals embraced the gospel message. Interestingly enough, the first group to hear his message was women on a riverbank (there was no synagogue in the city) and his first European convert was a businesswoman (rare and expensive purple fabrics) named Lydia. In the text we find that she was a worshiper of God (a believer in the God of Israel). She had a listening heart, an open heart and a responsive heart. As an immediate fruit of her conversion, Lydia offered (urged Paul and the others to accept) her home in hospitality as the first church in Philippi.  

The second that possibly embraced the gospel (though we do not know for sure, though she was healed of possession) was another businesswoman, though of questionable employment — a fortune-telling slave girl. While Lydia had a listening heart, this young girl had an enslaved heart. With a word of authority Paul spoke and the girl was liberated.

In Jamaica, so many are enslaved. Many live day-by-day not knowing where the next meal will come from or how to respond to health challenges with no financial resources. Others are enslaved by the physical abuses of angry, belligerent partners and of unfulfilled promises made by addictions. Sharon has had the joy of seeing some break away from these heartaches and embrace the healing, liberating power of Christ.

The last reported individual in this text was a jailer doing his job as a public servant. After an unsettling earthquake that instantly shattered his world, he encountered Christ. Through the attitude of praise by Paul and Silas (even when unjustly imprisoned) and subsequent response to the jailer’s deep question of longing for a right heart, the jailer embraced the Lord Jesus. With a ready heart, he (and his household) received Christ.

Jeremiah expresses it best when he repeats the promise of the Lord: “You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart” Jer. 29:13.

1/16/2009 4:58:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 18: Meeting God in the Temple

January 7 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Isaiah 6:1-8

Nancy B Knott was my 9th grade English teacher. Mrs. Knott was a good teacher, but like most good English teacher she had some quirks. Her attendance policy was unforgiving, for example. But the thing I remember most about Mrs. Knott was the full week of class time we spent watching Gone with the Wind.

Now before you launch a “fire Mrs. Knott for wasting valuable class room time” campaign let me explain. Gone with the Wind is an important piece of American literature. Historians, folks who study literature, and sociologists all agree the statement of the work is a crucial part of America’s growing up after the wounds of war and the social injustices of slavery. But I digress. One reason Mrs. Knott had us watch it, at least so she said, was that “chivalry is dead.”

Mrs. Knott made it her goal to bring it back to life showing us what chivalry in the deep antebellum south looked like up close and personal for a week. Break from “real work” or not, the kids (me included) loved it. We may have started the week planning on napping and writing notes, but the picture captivated us and Mrs. Knott made her points. Not the least of which was the one about chivalry, as I believe I actually opened the door a time or two for a female classmate on the way out of 9th grade English!

To use Mrs. Knott’s point, while amending her words . . . “Churchmanship is dead.”

As a lifetime denominational servant, I won’t make many friends by saying that statement is especially true of those “in the church business,” but it is nonetheless true. But it is not just those of us who “do church” all week who fail to do it on Sunday, churchmanship is dead, or at least dying.

When Isaiah was called to be a prophet, that call happened in the temple. He literally “met God” in the temple. So much is made today of daily quite time, and personal devotion, and please hear me say the need for such exists, but there is also a need to be in church. We need the fellowship of other believers. We need to be in God’s house, among God’s people. We need to be involved in the doing, on a week-by-week basis, of church.

And that doesn’t mean just once a week, but all throughout the week. From Wednesday night prayer meetings to committee meetings and of course to Sunday morning worship . . . we must meet God in the temple.

1/7/2009 6:50:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Jan. 18: Show Fresh Respect

January 7 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Genesis 4:1-16, 25-26

The well-known account of Cain and Abel continues the biblical account of sin and its consequences upon humanity in its personal and spiritual relationships. Many cultures identify themselves historically in this tale of jealousy and murder. For example, in Rwanda and Burundi there are those who identify the primordial brothers as Tutsi (pastoral) and Hutu (agricultural) locked in eternal animosity and rivalry. In fact, the author was once told during the time of the Rwanda genocide that Tutsis could never be saved because reception of salvation required repentance and a Tutsi would never admit they were wrong.

Instead, the account is a picture of a culture that devalues life. Interestingly this “murder” occurs in the context of religious expression. The text states that both brothers respond to the Lord by presenting gifts (minha — a gift of homage or allegiance) from their labors — Cain’s fruit of the ground and Abel’s firstborn and fat portions. The Lord’s responses to the gifts were not over whether the particular offering was “blood” related or not, but over the individual’s heart attitude (In Deuteronomy 8 and following we discover that God has room for both). From the text, we find that Cain’s attitude is one of arrogance and deceit (1 John 3:12). There is a play on images in the Hebrew text in which Cain’s face portrays a frown and the Lord offers to lift it up or smile. Cain’s face gives him away and rather than discipline him, the Lord offers restoration if he would only experience a change of heart- like a loving father, the Lord points to his child a way out of danger. With verse seven, the reader and Cain are forced to recognize personal responsibility to actions of sin or the mastery of those acts.

Sadly, though temporarily oscillating between accepting or defying God’s remonstrance (D. Kidner), Cain cold-bloodedly murders his brother. As in the garden after the first act of disobedience, God appears immediately. Rather than “Where are you?” he asks, “Where is your brother?” Once more God offers repentance, but the violator responds “Am I responsible for my brother?” His lie is betrayed by the shout of his brother’s blood crying out from the ground. “What have you done?” and the hardened, impenitent heart discovers that “to destroy life goes far beyond man’s proper sphere” (Gerhard von Rad).

Thus, judgment must be more terrible because sacred life itself has been violated.

But, the last word is not Cain’s. He may protest the curse, but the Lord covenants with Cain His personal protection becoming His go’el (though separated from God remains under His salvific protection). Though the Lord is concerned with the innocent, He is also deeply concerned with the sinner.

The last word is not a tragic shedding of innocent blood. Instead, with the birth of another son, Seth, it is the buoyant shoot of spiritual growth as it begins to break forth and “people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

1/7/2009 6:49:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments