January 2010

Formations Lesson for February 7: Have Faith!

January 25 2010 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: Habakkuk 3:1-19   

Many Christian people live somewhere between faith and despair. When unfortunate circumstances occur the tendency is to ask, “Why, God?” Despair leads many to the question, “If God is truly good and loving, why would he allow (fill in the blank) to happen?” The heart of such questioning is, “Can God be trusted?”

When our expectations of God don’t match our experience of Him, we are bound to have questions. Habakkuk does. Habakkuk is a frustrated prophet who is surrounded by violence, injustice, strife, and evil. It seems God is uncaring, just sitting on the sidelines watching it happen. Habakkuk cries out, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2). He struggles to harmonize that God is good, society is bad, and God is silent.

It can be scary to question God. We fear that we might end up with our faith destroyed. It is in questioning, however, that we learn and grow. The answer we receive, though, may be different from the one we seek.

God answers Habakkuk’s prayer by raising up the Babylonians to punish Israel for her sin. Infuriated again, Habakkuk questions if this is the sort of thing a holy God should do. God assures him that His actions will be just. Israel will be punished for her sin, as will the Babylonians.

The basis of our faith must be grounded in the continued faithfulness of God. In chapter three, Habakkuk prays for God’s merciful intervention based on His character as it has been revealed in history. For many, history is a dull subject. But seen from the right perspective, it is far from being so. For those with eyes to see, history is full of God and His presence in the world.

Habakkuk poetically portrays the Lord as a divine warrior, taking a stand against His enemies and delivering His people. The prophet recalls the exodus from Egypt and the entry into the Promised Land, events the people often recalled, inspiring hope in dark days. In verses 16-19, Habakkuk indicates his readiness to wait in hope and even to rejoice in God during the dark days. We must submit ourselves to the Lord’s timing. By waiting patiently, we honor God’s sovereignty.

At the end of the book, the problems are still there. Destruction and violence are present (1:3). The arrogant and greedy still rule (2:5). The poor and abused still suffer (2:6-7). The world has not yet been changed. But Habakkuk has. In faith, he knows that no matter what things look like, God will set things right.     
1/25/2010 6:16:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for February 7: Are You in the Right Mind?

January 25 2010 by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes

Focal Passage: Romans 8:5-8; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4  

It never ceases to amaze me how baffling non-believers find Christian behavior. I even understand why it leaves them scratching their heads. Christians go to the same building carrying the same book to do the same thing week after week.

We (are supposed to) forgive when others seek revenge, remain silent when others shout and hold ourselves to a standard that only One has ever achieved.

It would stand to reason that non-believers would ask Christians, “Are you in your right mind!?”

The focal passages today set the stage for some very “opposite” behaviors or mindsets. There is the difference between the spirit and the flesh for example. Christians and non-Christians are like sight and blindness respectively as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:3-4.)   

Ultimately, it is human wisdom as opposed to the “mind of Christ.”

Christians have their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit and are fully aware of the cost Christ paid. That awareness brings about the desire to follow He who gave everything for us. It’s a mind-set, an intentional focus on the desires of Christ and the telling of God’s love.

The Christian’s mind-set may not be easy, without pain and suffering or lacking in frustration. It has to be a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute choice requiring intense focus and necessary devotion.

A mind-set that the ones who have it describe as including pain and suffering, having frustration, and demanding focus and devotion . . . that is the RIGHT mind-set? It would not only stand to reason that non-believers would question the Christian mind-set, it would be crazy if they didn’t. 

It is only through the veil of the Holy Spirit that anyone can see it.

Jesus said that we are not to be “of the world” even though we are “in the world.” We must keep the right mind-set to live as Christ called us.   
1/25/2010 6:15:00 AM by A. Shane Nixon, Director of Church and Community Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for January 31: Wrestling with Work

January 19 2010 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passages: Ecclesiastes 2:18-26; 5:18-20

In a New York Times article dated April 9, 2009, a poll taken by the American Psychological Association found that 80 percent reported that the economy’s causing significant stress, up from 66 percent the previous April.

It further states that anxiety, depression and stress are troubling people everywhere, even though they may not be suffering significant economic losses.

One individual, Anne Hubbard, of Cambridge, Mass., though having not lost her job, house, or savings, has begun having panic attacks over the economy and a paralyzing fear of losing everything.

She has become so sick to her stomach that she has already lost 12 pounds and is unable to function. 

The Preacher is experiencing his own level of stress as he confronts his labors and wealth. His initial despair is debilitating to the point of loathing and anger — “I loathed all the fruit of my effort for which I worked so hard…” (2:18 NET).

Like the stress and anxiety felt today over losing all to the banks and lending institutions, the Preacher fears that all he has worked for will go to another- his successor, who may not be very wise or frugal.

He despairs over a reality where one works hard and diligently with “wisdom, knowledge, and skill” only to hand it over to another “who did not work for it” (2:21 NET).

But out of the despair comes a revelation — the ability to enjoy one’s labor and its fruits comes from God. 

Further it is a divine gift — “God has given them, for this is their reward” (5:18c).

He observes, “To every man whom God has given wealth and possessions, he has also given him the ability to eat from them, to receive his reward and to find enjoyment in his toil; these things are the gift of God” (5:19 NET).

Thus, regardless of what crisis arises in a secular environment of recessions and economic depressions, God provides purpose, empowerment and joy “from his (the faithful worker) activity.”

Richard Foster shares this word of doxology for a day of labor and service:
“This day has been breathless, Lord. I stop now for a few moments and wonder:
Is the signature of the Holy over the rush of the day? Or have I bolted ahead,
Anxiously trying to solve problems that do not belong to me?
Holy Spirit of God, please show me:
How to work relaxed
How to make each task an offering of faith
How to view interruptions as doors of service
How to see each person as my teacher in things eternal
In the name of Him who always worked unhurried. Amen.”  
1/19/2010 1:49:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 31: Do Justice!

January 19 2010 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: Micah 6:1-8 

Do you ever get tired of serving God, wishing that you could live a while without worrying about whether or not you were pleasing God?

As a child, I didn’t really look forward to Sunday. On Saturday nights my siblings and I had to lay out our Sunday clothes, polish our shoes, read the Sunday school lesson, and prepare our offering envelopes. The people of Israel were required to honor the sacrificial system of the Temple by bringing animal and food offerings. Like I did with my sister and brothers, it appears that God’s people grumbled about what they were expected to do.

God asked through the prophet Micah, “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you?” He reminded them of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, his protection during their journey, and their prosperity. As human beings, we tend to forget the blessings God pours out upon our lives, focusing instead on what frustrates us at the moment.

Micah clearly articulated God’s expectations in Micah 6:8. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

First, do justice. There is a growing consensus today that right and wrong have no absolute meanings.

The same was true in Micah’s day. He attacked the powerful for their economic policies that benefited the wealthy at others’ expense (Micah 2:1-7) and the false prophets who supported the injustice (Micah 2:6-8). He called for a biblical justice that defends the rights of the weak and cares for the rights of others with the same intensity that we care for our own rights.

Second, love mercy. Paul writes, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Those who receive God’s mercy must offer mercy to others. To love mercy is to be concerned with the needs of others, and to demonstrate God’s love to those we would naturally reject — even to those who have rejected us.

Third, walk humbly with your God. This begins by being honest about who we are — sinners saved by grace. There is no room for pride or ego.

What can we do to please God? The bottom line isn’t about what we do for God, but what he has done for us to establish a relationship with us through Christ on the cross. 

The ability to meet God’s expectations is found in a relationship with Jesus.
1/19/2010 1:46:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for January 24: Wrestling with Stuff

January 11 2010 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passages: Ecclesiastes 2:4-8; 5:10-16

The reality TV market is cluttered with a number of programs which deal with people’s propensity toward the accumulation of “stuff.”

Shows like “How Clean is your House?” “Clean House” and episodes of “Intervention” expose the seemingly uncontrollable addiction we have with “things.”

A more recent offering to American taste for the excessive is the program “Hoarders.”

Now in its second season, this one-hour show looks inside the lives of individuals who are out of control and on the verge of personal crisis because of the inability to part with their belongings. Some face losing their children, others eviction, still others jail time or divorce. 

For example, we meet Tara, an obsessive collector of things like McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, snow globes and teddy bears. The clutter and filth is so great that she is facing eviction and when officials responded to a fire alarm in the home they found her husband sick from the mounting filth.

In another episode we meet Chris who filled the void of the death of her newborn son with possessions. Her Attention Deficit Disorder keeps her from focusing on cleaning her home and she now risks losing custody of her daughters who still live in the clutter and junk.

As we read our text this week we meet another “hoarder” — Solomon. Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 is an inventory of the “things” he has accumulated and his personal involvement in acquiring these things.

“I undertook great projects…” he states proudly and then gives a description of houses, vineyards, gardens, parks (the term he uses is our term paradise), pools, groves, slaves, concubines (harem), and great wealth.

What more could one ask for or need? His response to this hoarding is simple (like the subjects of reality TV — despair and disappointment).

He recognizes that there is hollowness to amassing great wealth and possessions.

Rather than providing satisfaction and fulfillment, he acquires sleepless nights, dissatisfaction and ill health.

“Whoever has money never has money enough” (5:10).

His final conclusion is that all his grand projects were “herding (toiling for) the wind … eating in darkness with great frustration, affliction and anger” (5:16).

Albert Einstein once wrote, “I am absolutely convinced that no wealth in the world can help humanity forward, even in the hands of the most devoted worker.

“The example of great and pure individuals is the only thing that can lead us to noble thoughts and deeds. Money only appeals to selfishness and irresistibly invites abuse.

“Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus or Gandhi armed with the money-bags of Carnegie?”  
1/11/2010 8:32:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 24: Get Serious!

January 11 2010 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: Malachi 1:6-2:9 

For several years I operated a stockyard with my father-in-law. Our business included the sale of culled dairy cows for slaughter — blind, lame, and unproductive animals that were of no further use to their owners. Animals like these got the attention of the prophet Malachi because they were being brought to the temple as an offering to God.

In Malachi’s day, the Jews had returned to their homeland after living in exile for 70 years.

The temple had been rebuilt and the worship of God reestablished. The offering of sacrifices was at the center of Jewish worship. Malachi was concerned about the quality of worship he witnessed because the people were offering blemished animals as a sacrifice to holy God. They were giving God what had no value to them.

The priests were showing “contempt” for God by accepting these inferior offerings from the people.

They were merely going through the motions, keeping the fires burning on the temple altar. But God said that it was useless (1:10).

He preferred that they close the doors rather than play their religious games.

Imagine the parade of pathetic animals stumbling blindly toward the temple. God says “Is that not wrong?” twice in verse 8 because the people, and certainly the priests, should have known better. In Leviticus 22:2, 19-20, God clearly is not interested in substandard sacrifices: “Tell Aaron and his sons to treat with respect the sacred offerings the Israelites consecrate to me, so they will not profane my holy name. I am the Lord … you must present a male without defect from the cattle, sheep, or goats in order that it may be accepted on your behalf. Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf.”

Giving to God as an act of worship is a sacred duty. Sacrifice is a very important element of the kind of giving that pleases God. It is foolish merely to offer God what we determine to be affordable and then expect abundant blessings from him. The true value of any gift is the cost of the gift to the giver.

Our gifts reveal our estimate of the one to whom we offer them. G. Campbell Morgan observed, “Sacrilege is centered in offering God something which costs nothing, because you think God is worth nothing” (Wherein Have We Robbed God? [Revell], p. 50). We only honor God when we offer him our very best!

How much personal sacrifice is involved in your gifts to God?    
1/11/2010 8:30:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for January 17: Jesus Revealed at a Wedding

January 4 2010 by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church

Focal Passage: John 2:1–11   

As a child, I learned from my church that what separated Southern Baptists from other Christians was teetotalism. My parents were teetotalers (except for the small glass of blackberry wine my father drank while my grandmother made Christmas fruitcakes).  Our congregation recited the church covenant’s promise “to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drink as a beverage.”

Thus, I find it perplexing that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was the turning of water into wine. If God is as serious about the alcohol issue as I was taught, why then is this story in the Bible?

The story tells us that Jesus, His mother, and the disciples had been invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. At some point in the festivities, Mary approached Jesus and asked Him to relieve the embarrassment of the host.

He had run out of wine. After some protesting, Jesus acted.

Jesus asked that the six stone jars used for purification purposes and holding some 20 or 30 gallons apiece be filled to the brim with water.

When the master of ceremony tasted what the servants drew out of the jars, he complimented the superior quality of the wine. As the story is told, the wedding guests and the master of ceremony were unaware that a miracle had occurred; but the disciples knew, and they “put their faith in him” (v. 11).

Some notions die hard.

The Pharisees, and even the disciples of John the Baptist, clung to the notion that the law represented the best and highest word God had ever given man. To this notion John the Evangelist tells this otherwise unreported story of the wedding in Cana — a story that illustrates what John previously recorded, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

What was the purpose of the law? Its aim was to produce a right relationship with God expressed in a right relationship with one another.

The law failed.

It produced a quality of life that was impoverished of feeling, of sensitivity toward one’s fellow man.

Certainly Jesus did turn water into wine as the story states, but the real miracle performed in this story is that gallons of law and guilt were transformed into gallons of grace.

The “new wine” that Jesus offers is a religion of joy.

Being a Christian is like going to a Jewish wedding. The bridegroom is with us, and he brings joy to our lives.     
1/4/2010 6:32:00 AM by DuPre Sanders, pastor, Roxboro Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 17: Wrestling with Injustice

January 4 2010 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passages: Ecclesiastes 3:16-17; 4:1; 8:2-13

“I  looked … I saw under the sun … And all this I have seen …” The testimony of the Preacher continues as he wrestles with the piercing reality of injustice and oppression that saturates his culture (and the world). He looks to the place of justice and judgment, but finds wickedness.

He looked for integrity, but found oppression. He looked for prompt judgment, but found delay and a resultant greater boldness to evil actions.

“I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun…” (4:1). One wonders whether there was any respite for the sufferer? The Preacher replies, “I saw the tears of the oppressed-and they have no comforter!” 

In order to emphasize this reality, he repeats himself — “and they have no comforter.”

His statements logically continue his remark about man’s inhumanity to man and his comparison of man with beast (3:16ff., see also 8:9).

It has been said that Gautama Buddha taught that if all the tears of sorrow shed were confluent, they would fill the seas (O.S. Rankin).

Sadly, for Buddha the only escape is the cessation of desire; for the Preacher the only escape is death (4:2-3) and finally to “stand in awe of God” (5:7b).

Oppression. The Preacher’s comments are about the exploitation by wealthier classes of those who have lived on the land for generations and those hardworking individuals who dwell in the city. It is a debt system that quickly becomes enslavement — slavery or monopoly. The typical situation was one of families who have to put all members who were able to work at the disposal of the creditor, then the mortgaging of homes and finally “the brutal sale of people into slavery in foreign countries” (Norbert Lohfink). And they have no comforter!

Though a span of several thousand years separates us from the Preacher’s world, the exploitative crisis he describes is a daily reality for the many of us.

There are those who live just on the razor sharp edge of survival and disaster financially.

They live and move gingerly along day by day, paying bills, working hard, tying to keep their heads above water — and then the financial institutions on the other side of their world collapse and suddenly it is all that they can do to succumb to radical enslavement and crumble under the strain of indebtedness.

And they have no comforter!

Where is the community of faith as comforter? Is there hope?

“And Jesus found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed’” (Luke 4:17b-18).    
1/4/2010 6:29:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments