July 2008

Formations lesson for Aug. 3: Hospitality to Christ

July 16 2008 by Lamar King

Focal Passage: Matt. 25:31-46

Jesus prayed a dynamic prayer in John 17:24: "Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me ..."(NRSV).

This verse does not refer to hope in the eschatological vision of the church. Rather, this verse implies what Augustine of Hippo prayed in the fifth century: "Lord, help me to know where you are and what you are doing, that I may be there and doing that same thing."

Showing hospitality to Christ is being where He is and doing what He is doing in this life. But, it is more. A deep commitment to Jesus results in a spiritual bonding of the servant to His master. We become one with Christ as we open our lives in hospitality to Him.

Sugar, flour, oil, flavoring, salt and eggs can be stirred together, but this does not create a bond. Cake batter is a mixture of substances, but these substances have only been mixed. Bonding is caused by a chemical reaction, and chemical reactions need some kind of energy to start the bond. In cooking, the energy that bonds is heat. When heat is applied to cake batter, something new is formed. Cake batter plus heat is no longer a mixture. It is a new thing, a new substance.

When we are spiritually bonded to Christ, we become a new thing. The energy that forms this bond is the Holy Spirit, and this bonding occurs only as we open our lives to the dynamic power of the Spirit who creates something new. Many Christians miss the joy of salvation because they have accepted a spurious substitute for their unity with Christ. Christians do not want to merely "mix" with spiritual things. Christians seek to become one with their Lord.

A.W. Tozer addresses this issue: Jesus Christ has today almost no authority among the groups and people who call themselves by His name. The present position of Christ may be likened to that of a king in a limited constitutional monarchy.

The king in such a country is no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis, someone else makes the decisions.

Hospitality to Christ fulfills the promise that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17).

7/16/2008 8:07:00 AM by Lamar King | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Aug. 3: A Focused Life

July 16 2008 by Jim Baldwin

Focal Passage: Heb. 1:1-6, 10-14; 2:1-4

The teacher had given her art class an assignment to draw anything they wanted to draw. As she walked around the room, observing their work, she stopped at the desk of a girl working intently on her drawing.

"What are you drawing?" the teacher asked.

The little girl replied, "I'm drawing a picture of God."  

The teacher, trying to be careful not to belittle the girl's efforts, responded, "But, honey, no one knows what God looks like."

The girl, now somewhat annoyed at the interruption, answered, "They will when I get finished!"

The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were Jewish Christians. As such, they would have had nothing depicting the likeness of God. God was too great to be captured on paper, canvas, wood, or even in the imagination of humans. Whether they admitted it or not, the people who received and read the letter to the Hebrews must have imagined what God was like.

We can know something about a person by the things he or she has made. From the works of great artists to crayon drawings on a refrigerator, art becomes an expression of the person who created it. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands (Ps. 19:1). God has revealed His power and divine majesty in His creation, so that men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).

We can know something about a person through the things he or she has written. The Bible was written so that we might know God and what He is like. "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." (Jn. 20:31) Still we leave our Bibles on the shelf at home or on the pew at church. How can we know God if we do not study His word?

The writer of Hebrews makes his point when he says, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." (Heb. 1:2) God was not content to leave us to decipher the etchings of His hand in creation. He was not satisfied with a book that could be set aside and forgotten. He came to earth as a human being so that we might get to know Him face-to-face. Jesus said to those who would listen, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn. 14:9)

How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation (Heb. 2:3)?

7/16/2008 8:04:00 AM by Jim Baldwin | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for July 27: Hospitality to Newcomers

July 16 2008 by Lamar King

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 14:20-33

As a pastor who has moved several times, I know how good hospitality to a newcomer feels; but it is probably true that first-time guests in some churches do not always feel welcome.

Every human being has the same basic needs to feel affirmed and valued and welcomed into the lives of others.

Gladys, more than anybody else, helped me see this.  

Upon moving to Baltimore, my wife and I bought a lovely house with a needy yard. I was certain that no landscaping business wanted to provide "just a little help." With my well-rehearsed speech, I called a local landscaping business anyway.

"Hello, this is Gladys," said the receptionist.  

I explained my need to Gladys. "I've tried to improve my yard," I said, "but I have only made matters worse. I need some help, but I'm not ready to sign a contract, and I don't want to be pressured."

"Darling," she said, "what is your name?" I told her.

"Well, Sugar Pie," she continued, "ain't nobody here gonna take advantage of you. If they do, old Gladys is gonna do some neck wringing." I knew immediately that I was talking to a friend. I felt a warm welcome into her life and her business.

"Now, Sweetie, you don't have a problem," she said. "You have a friend. Baby doll, you let me send Tim over to take a peek, and if he don't treat you right, I'll come myself."  

Tim came and did a good job. I paid more than I had expected to pay, but it didn't seem to matter because, though I had only known her for 10 minutes, Gladys and I were dear friends. Soon enough, I realized that it wasn't Tim I really needed. It was Gladys, so I called her again.   

"Lord have mercy!" she wailed as I told her who I was. "Did Tim treat you unkindly, darling?"

"No," I assured her. "I just thought I might get Tim to help me with a second project."

"Well, Baby Doll, you tell me what you got in mind, and Gladys will work a magic spell." Her "spell" wasn't another contract. It was gracious hospitality.  

Every church needs a Gladys to affirm newcomers and to reassure them that they are important. Hospitality to newcomers must be sincere, but more than that, it must be warm and personal, and it must affirm the value and worth of visitors who are really guests, of our Lord.  

7/16/2008 7:58:00 AM by Lamar King | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for July 27: Just How Heavenly is Heaven?

July 16 2008 by Jim Baldwin

Focal Passages: Rev. 21:1-5, 22-27; 22:1-5

John's description of heaven tells us more about what is not there than about what is there. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. There is no sun nor moon, nor night. There is no need for a temple because the Lord God and the Lamb are its temple. Our words are terribly inadequate to express the realities of heaven. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him (2 Cor. 2:9).

What we are told is that "They will see His face" (Rev. 22:4). John       Bunyan wrote in his classic work, The Pilgrim's Progress, "I see myself now at the end of my journey, my toilsome days are ended. I am going now to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spit upon, for me. I have formerly lived by hear-say and faith, but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him, in whose company I delight myself."

Several years ago my brother-in-law helped open a new hotel in the Durham area. My family was invited to participate in the grand opening. It was a fancy affair and admission was by invitation only. As we walked across the parking lot we realized we had left our invitation at home. Fortunately, as we approached the doorman, we saw my wife's brother just inside the door.

"We're with him," we said, and he allowed us in. When we get to heaven we need only say, "We're with Jesus."

We try so hard to make ourselves worthy of heaven. We attend church, give our tithes and even study ahead for our Sunday School lessons, thinking that God will take notice and allow us into heaven.

The truth is that we do not qualify according to the standards of heaven. "Nothing impure will ever enter into it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful."

We all have impure hearts. We all have done shameful or deceitful things. The good news is not that God recognizes our goodness. The good news is that when we trust Jesus as our Savior it is His righteousness that God sees in us (Phil. 3:7-9). The only question God will ask us when we stand before Him is, "Do you know Jesus?" Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life will enter heaven (Rev. 21:27).

7/16/2008 7:55:00 AM by Jim Baldwin | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for July 20: What's Up With Christ Coming Down?

July 1 2008 by Focal Passage: Rev. 19:6-9, 11-16, 19-21

Several years ago, at a Henry Blackaby conference, I heard Travis Cottrell sing a powerful praise song, "We Will Ride." The song ignited a passion in me for the return of Jesus. I hope it will help open up these verses about the return of Christ.

"He has fire in His eyes and a sword in His hand

And He's riding a white horse across this land

And He's calling out to you and me

'Will you ride with me?'"

After frightening images of beasts and dragons, of horsemen and prostitutes, finally we see Jesus, seated upon a white horse. All the multitude of heaven shout, "Hallelujah!" when He arrives. Although most of His contemporaries did not recognize Jesus when He walked on earth, there is no mistaking Him this time.

The first time He came riding on a donkey. Next time He will be riding on a white horse.

The first time He came on the dusty roads of Canaan. Next time He will be coming on the clouds of glory.

The first time He was followed by 12 men. Next time He will be followed by the armies of heaven.

The first time they spit on Him and mocked His name. Next time every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The first time they brought Him before Herod who sentenced Him to die. Next time He will sit on the throne, and He will judge all the nations.

The first time they asked, "Who is this man?" Next time they will all know He is King of kings and Lord of lords. It will be written upon His robe and upon His thigh, and all the angels of heaven will proclaim it.

The last stanza to the song says:

"That fire in His eyes is His love for His bride

And He's longing that she be with Him

Right by His side

And He's calling out to us right now,

"Will you ride with me?"

Whenever I officiate a wedding, I enter the sanctuary with the groom and the best man. We stand at the front of the sanctuary awaiting the bride's entrance. As all heads turn to watch the bride coming down the aisle, I watch the groom. I want to see the love in his eyes and the joy of knowing his bride will soon be with him. I envision Jesus standing at the gates of heaven, having defeated all His enemies, ready to receive His bride.

7/1/2008 5:48:00 PM by Focal Passage: Rev. 19:6-9, 11-16, 19-21 | with 0 comments