July 2010

Formations Lesson for August 15: Conflict and Boundaries

July 30 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passages: Gen. 31:1-9, 17-21, 25-26, 36-42, 51-54

Boundaries exist because of conflict — potential or actual. If all things were bliss there would be no need for boundaries. The saying is true: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Why? Fences are helpful because neighbors are fallible human beings whose instincts for self-interest are powerful. Currently our nation is engaged in a strident conversation about what to do about our national boundaries. One group wants to create stronger boundaries to slow the wave of illegal immigration coming across the border from the south. Another group wants to loosen the boundaries and offer a “pathway to citizenship” to those who came to our country illegally.

The saga of boundary-making, boundary-breaking Jacob continues in Genesis 31 presenting Jacob on the run again from someone and to a place he hopes will become a refuge. This time Jacob is running from the father of both his wives, Rachel and Leah. After 20 years, the relationship is breaking down. Laban’s sons have grown resentful of Jacob and the growth of his flocks. Jacob feels threatened by them and doesn’t trust Laban, for good reason. Again and again Laban has altered the contracts they had with one another. Jacob believes it’s time to go, so in the middle of the night, he packs his bags, grabs his wives, and drives his flocks back to the land of Canaan. When Laban learns that his son-in-law has run away he pursues him and ultimately catches up with him.

After a heated argument and a thorough search for stolen property Laban and Jacob agree to a truce. They create a boundary. They heap up stones that would serve as a “witness” between the two of them. They agree not to transgress the boundary and cross to the other side to harm the other.

It would be great if Jacob and Laban could’ve reconciled, signed a peace treaty, and agreed to a free and fair trade deal.

It would be a foretaste of the Christian ethic for them to kiss, hug, and declare, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.” But most relational, international, and political outcomes fall short of God’s glory. The next best thing, in the meantime, is a recognizable boundary that enhances the prospects of peace.

If Sunday School class has become boring, take a risk and have a discussion about national immigration policy with this text in mind. Only remember we have an Old Testament and temporary solution in this chapter that doesn’t pretend to follow the ethic of Jesus. Do a word search for “alien” using blueletterbible.org to prepare for a healthy discussion (esp. Ex. 22:21, Lev. 19:34, 23:22).  
7/30/2010 3:38:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 15: Demonstrate Kindness

July 30 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passage: 2 Samuel 9:1-13

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32, KJV).

Oh, how this world needs a little kindness … We stay so busy — so wrapped up in our own hustle and bustle that we barely even notice the multitudes waiting out there for someone to show them even the smallest act of kindness.

Kindness is love in action. It is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

It doesn’t happen by accident. Kindness is a deliberate choice we make to do good to others. 

“David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’” (v. 1, NIV).

In order to understand this request, you need to understand the background of the characters involved.

King Saul was David’s fiercest enemy. Saul told his son, Jonathan, “As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die” (1 Sam. 20:31, NIV).

Jonathan, however, was David’s dearest friend. “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Sam. 18:1, NIV).

He told David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you” (1 Sam. 20:4, NIV).

Out of their deep love and friendship, Jonathan asked David to make a promise: “But show me unfailing kindness … and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family …” (1 Sam. 20:14-15, NIV).

David kept his promise. After the death of Saul and Jonathan, David brought Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, into his own home and told him, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (v. 7, NIV).

David set an example for us to follow in demonstrating kindness. Good intentions are not enough.

We must first decide that we truly desire to show kindness to those around us.

We then need to seek opportunities to practice kindness to those God places in our path.

Paul said, “And let us not grow weary in well-doing … So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9-10, RSV).

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40, NIV).    
7/30/2010 3:36:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for August 8: The Family Blessing

July 27 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Genesis 27:18-41

This story of Jacob and Esau plays on the same theme as last week’s text. It shows a conniving Jacob pulling the wool over his father’s eyes in order to obtain the family blessing. Last week’s text showed Jacob taking advantage of Esau’s hunger to obtain the family’s one and only birthright. This story tells about Jacob, under the sinister guidance of his mother, stealing Esau’s blessing.

The tragedy, to modern readers, is not only does Jacob steal Esau’s blessing, but there is no blessing left at all for Esau. We’d like to think that Isaac could bestow another blessing on the duped Esau.

Yet, according to the Hebrew mindset, a blessing was like an arrow shot from a bow. Once the string is released and the arrow shoots toward its target, there is no retrieving it. 

What power did blessing effect on the recipient?

For a father to bless a son meant that son would experience fertility, well-being, and prosperity. It guaranteed political power and preeminence. It created a hedge of protection around the blessed son.

No wonder Jacob connived to obtain it and Esau wanted to kill Jacob for having gotten it.

We live in different world today when the power of spoken blessing seems less determinative.

But maybe we need to reconsider the power of blessing on our children, and particularly the power of the father’s blessing on his children.

It may sound sexist, but the father has a power that is distinct from the mother’s.

The relationship of mother and child is organic. The child lives as embryo in the womb.

She carries and nurtures the child.

The father, on the other hand, is the outsider.

His relationship with the child is necessarily psychological, not physical. It is this reason why the blessing of the father is so crucial for the well-being of the child.

The child that doesn’t receive this blessing hungers for it for a lifetime. John Killinger, in his book The God Name Hallowed, writes about a woman who left the country at an early age because she didn’t feel her father loved her.

In her 30s, she suffered from acute depression. She traveled back to the States, had a tearful reunion with her father, and came back much elated at his assurance that he had always loved her.

“Still,” she said, “I will never be the woman I might have been if I had only grown up with this assurance. I am already marked for life.”

This story reminds us of the power of blessing and the danger of failing to give it to our children.                
7/27/2010 10:11:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 8: Focus on God’s Purposes

July 27 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: 2 Samuel 7:1-7, 11b-16, 18-21

King David’s intentions were good. “After the king was settled in his palace … he said … ‘Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent’” (v. 1, NIV).

David finally had a place he could call home — so his natural inclination was to build a house for God’s presence to dwell in.

There was one small problem with David’s plan.

He had failed to ask God for His opinion on the matter.

David could almost see the finished product, but he had started making plans without consulting the one person who mattered the most — God.

David later explained, “I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it.

“But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood’” (1 Chr. 28:2-3, NIV).

Two phrases in this passage from 1 Chronicles hold the key to focusing on God’s will and purpose for our lives:
  • “I made plans…” 
  • “But God said to me…”
David really wanted to please and honor God.

However, we cannot please and honor God by doing things our way.

We must listen to His voice and follow His leading. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9, RSV).

Our ultimate goal in life should be to bring honor and glory to God in all that we say, in all that we do, and in all that we are.

Our agenda should be to align ourselves with God’s purposes — not to make our plans and then ask God to bless them.

God had great plans for King David.

He promised David that his son would “build a house for My Name” (v. 13, NIV).

He also promised, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (v. 16, NIV).

God had great plans for King David, and He has great plans for you, too.
  • Stay in the Word.
  • Go to God in prayer.
  • Trust Him in all things.
  • Focus on His purposes for your life and you will be blessed:              
    • Psalm 57:2;            
    • Proverbs 3:5-6, 16:1-3;            
    • Jeremiah 29:11;            
    • Romans 8:28; and            
    • Ephesians 2:10.  
7/27/2010 10:06:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for August 1: Parental Favoritism

July 20 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal passage: Genesis 25:21-34

I have three daughters and they all claim the other is the favorite child. The oldest laments that her life has been more controlled and that we were stricter with her than the others. She’s right. The second oldest claims the youngest gets off the easiest and that the oldest is always put in charge when the parents are gone. She’s right. The youngest complains that the oldest is put in charge and that the two of them gang up on her because they can. She’s right. They all claim favoritism falls on someone else. This gives me a good deal of comfort. It’s like coaches and fans complaining equally about the quality of the refereeing in the basketball game.

The story of Jacob and Esau can be interpreted many ways. For purposes of this commentary we will focus on the interplay of parental favoritism and the grand purposes of God.

The story begins with a prayer from Isaac because his wife, Rebekah, is barren.

God answers their prayers and puts two boys in her womb.

Even in the womb their movements provide ironic evidence that a long struggle between them and their offspring lies ahead: “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples within you will be separated” (25:23).

Esau comes out of the womb first, red and hairy. He is loved by his father Isaac, supposedly because he’s an outdoorsman. Jacob, clinging to the heel of Esau, comes out second. He is loved by his mother because he hangs out in the kitchen and helps around the house (v. 28).

What we have in this story is the fascinating interplay between God’s providence and human sin. Jacob, the heel, is destined to rule over Esau, the first born. His mother is going to connive and manipulate circumstances to see that Jacob comes out on top. Isaac is too oblivious to family dynamics to guide his family away from destructive conflict. Did parental favoritism cause the conflicts in the family or are the family conflicts the means through which God carries out His will? It’s a mystery that runs throughout the Bible all the way to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Having raised three wonderful daughters I can attest to the natural gravitation toward certain children because of personality similarities and common interests.

Yet, this should be a prompt to be especially mindful of spending time and showing love overtly to our children with whom our differences are greatest. Love all your children equally, but love the ones who need extra love more equally than others.  
7/20/2010 7:23:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 1: Respect God’s Holiness

July 20 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passage: 2 Samuel 6:1-15, 17

God means what He says. Period. He is holy and just and righteous in all His ways. He hasn’t changed — and He never will. He is the same holy God today that He was when He spoke the world into being.

A holy God uses holy vessels (2 Tim. 2:20-21).

The Ark of God was a rectangular golden box built to hold the Ten Commandments. It was the most sacred treasure of the nation of Israel. A jar of manna and Aaron’s rod were also housed in the Ark — which was kept in the Most Holy Place.

The Ark had been captured by the Philistines for a brief time, kept at Abinadab’s house for 20 years, and was finally being returned to Jerusalem. “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord…” (v. 5, NIV). David’s intentions of returning the Ark back to Jerusalem were good, and in his heart — he truly meant to do something pleasing to God. David’s heart was sincere. His actions, however, were sincerely wrong.

God had given explicit instructions for transporting the Ark from one location to another. Numbers 4:5-15 describes how that process was to be done. God had specifically told the children of Israel that the Levites were the only ones assigned to this task. A severe warning also accompanied the moving instructions: “But they must not touch the holy things or they will die” (v. 15).

God means what He says. He doesn’t go back on His Word. He never exaggerates. And He doesn’t make mistakes.

We are the ones who have the problem. We have watered down the Word of God for so long that many Christians don’t know for sure what the Bible really says. We need to respect our holy God and we need to respect God’s Holy Word.

If we believe God’s promises, then we must also believe every command and every consequence.

A holy God expects nothing less from us than our love, respect, and complete obedience. Meditate on these Bible truths and allow them to lead you into a deeper relationship with our heavenly Father that is full of reverence, awe, respect, and love.
  • “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NIV).
  • “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Cor. 7:1, NIV).
7/20/2010 7:21:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for July 25: Walk Humbly

July 14 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal passage: Matthew 23:1-12

I tell my congregation to call me “Don” or “Pastor Don.” When we begin Sunday morning worship services I don’t usually have a place to sit because the choir and special announcers have all the seats on the platform. I sit on a front pew, a vacant seat in the choir, or sometimes on the floor of the platform. I wear an “old fashioned suit,” instead of a robe. No phylacteries either. I try to act humble since it is a Christian virtue, but I’ll confess, I feel good when someone comes  to me and says, “I’m going to call you Dr. Gordon because you have an earned doctorate and you should be recognized for it.” 

Matthew 23:1-12 is an indictment on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, but with a few word changes it could be read to ministers in any age, from any denomination.

It’s the opening prelude to an avalanche of “woes” spewed out against these hypocritical religious leaders. These leaders have adopted the role of authoritative interpreter of religious teaching which commoners must accept.

They teach about love, kindness, and humility but act out of self-interest, callousness, and pride (v. 3).

They call for great sacrifice from their constituents, but live in ease and luxury (v. 4).

They are quick to get in front of a camera so they can cash in on the cult of celebrity. The clothes they wear and the words they speak are chosen with calculation to enhance their image and impression of super piety (v. 5).

They love sitting at the head table at banquets and in the tallest seat in the sanctuary (v. 6). When they go downtown for lunch they love it when the other customers call them “Doctor” or “Reverend” and whisper to each other about how extraordinary their leadership is (v. 7).

After this litany of embarrassing exposures, Jesus turns to his disciples and teaches them a different, more humble way to live.

Don’t let anyone call you rabbi, father or teacher. There’s only one master and you are to be like brothers. There is only one father in heaven, so don’t pretend to be God.

Only Christ is the teacher, so go by another name. What name are we to use? Servant! Whoever wants to be great will become a servant, someone willing to make the community, church, and world a better place with no thought for recognition.

Humility is not the same thing as obscurity. It’s grounded in a lifestyle of servanthood — out front or in the background — that cares more for God and others than it does for its own glory.     
7/14/2010 3:37:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for July 25: The Power of Loyalty

July 14 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: 1 Samuel 24:20-22; 26:1-2, 7-12, 21-25

“What is desired in a man is loyalty…” (Pro. 19:22a, RSV). Loyalty — now there’s a word you don’t hear used a lot these days. In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, it almost sounds like a word from days gone by, doesn’t it? Oh, there’s loyalty in the realm of sports, where fans proudly wear their team’s colors. And some die-hard fans even paint their faces or bodies to show where their loyalties lie!

But the loyalty David showed to Saul demonstrates a different level of commitment.

Twice in these passages David spared Saul’s life — even though Saul was relentlessly pursuing David in order to kill him.

After refusing to take Saul’s life in a cave in the Desert of En Gedi, David was grief-stricken for even cutting off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord” (24:6 NIV).

And again David refused to take the life of King Saul when he and Abishai entered Saul’s camp and found Saul and his army asleep and completely vulnerable to attack.

When Abishai challenged David to kill Saul, David replied, “Don’t destroy him. Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless” (26:9 NIV)?

In all of this, David demonstrated loyalty first of all to God — by refusing to kill one whom God had anointed as king. Secondly, David showed loyalty to Saul — respecting Saul’s position as God’s chosen king.

Where did David find this level of loyalty? In his love for God and in his desire to be obedient to God’s word, David wrote, “I will sing of loyalty and justice; to thee, O Lord, I will sing. I will give heed to the way that is blameless” (Ps. 101:1-2a RSV).

If we are to experience the power and blessings of loyalty that David did, we, too, need to base our loyalty on our love for God and obedience to His word.

Stop and take inventory of your own life. How loyal are you in the following areas?
  • Loyalty to God (Ex. 20:3)
  • Loyalty to spouse (Ex. 20:14)
  • Loyalty to friends (Prov. 17:17)
  • Loyalty to the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33)
  • Loyalty to your job (Col. 3:23)
“The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness” (26:23, NIV). God rewarded David for his loyalty and faithfulness — and He will reward you, too.  
7/14/2010 3:34:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for July 18: Love Kindness

July 6 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Luke 10:25-37  

This well-known story of the Good Samaritan begins with an expert in the Law asking Jesus a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question about the Scriptures: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The expert gives a good answer. He combines the Shema (Deut 6:5) and Lev. 19:17-18 as the means to eternal life. Eternal life is found in loving God with everything we’ve got and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus commends the expert for his good answer and merely tells him to live according to this correct answer and he “will live,” which presumably means “live forever.” 

One gets the feeling that Jesus assumed the conversation was over. This was an easy question and the expert already knew the answer. Case closed. But the case wasn’t closed. The lawyer wanted to “justify himself” with a follow up question: “Who is my neighbor?” Implicit in the question is the assumption that there are those who are not my neighbors. 

Rather than giving the lawyer a legal definition of neighbor Jesus told him a story. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Jerusalem is 2,300 feet above sea level and Jericho is 1,300 feet below sea level (near the Dead Sea). The 17-mile trek was notoriously rocky, filled with places where robbers could easily hide. As late as the 19th century people still had to pay “safety money” to local sheiks to insure their safe passage.

The disciples were delighted to hear Jesus name religious leaders as those who failed to help the wounded traveler. However, they were probably stunned when a Samaritan was put in a positive light.

The Samaritans were a remnant of Israel’s northern tribes that remained in the land when most everyone was exiled to Assyria in 722 BC. Eventually they intermarried with the Assyrians causing them to be viewed by the Jews as impure. Hostility and violence climaxed in 109 BC when John Jyrcanus, then Judean king, destroyed the Samaritan temple.

Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan taught that our neighbors go beyond family, race, and nationality. Loving our neighbor must be practical, it is manifest in acts of kindness. Notice the verbs used to describe what the Good Samaritan did: went, bound, pour, set, brought, took care, gave money. Loving our neighbor means being kind in practical ways to people we encounter who need our help. 

Perhaps our lesson could lead to a discussion on how to be kind to people in our neighborhoods.
7/6/2010 9:06:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for July 18: The Power of Petition

July 6 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: 1 Samuel 22:17-20; 23:1-6, 9-13  

The first images that come into your mind when you think about David are probably shepherd boy, giant killer, and king of Israel. But a closer look reveals two aspects of David’s life that paint a richer and even deeper portrait of his true character.

In both the Old Testament and the New Testament he is called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). And as the author of more than 70 psalms, David is known as a mighty man of prayer. 

This lesson focuses on the power and the importance of seeking God’s guidance in every aspect and in every decision of your life.

The scripture passages stress how critical it is to seek God’s will first and to follow His leading — not to make your own plans and then expect God’s blessings upon your self-centered endeavors.

Before fighting the Philistines at Keilah, David “inquired of the Lord” and “the Lord answered him” (23:2).

When his men confessed how afraid they were, “once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him” (23:4).

Upon learning that Saul was pursuing him in Keilah, David twice inquired of the Lord about what his plans should be.

Each time David petitioned God, God answered and David obeyed.

It is important to note, however, that David was human — just like the rest of us. He sinned many times and had to live with the consequences of those sins.

The lie he told to Ahimelech the priest (21:2) eventually led to the death of 85 priests and to the destruction of the town of Nob with all “its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep” (22:19).

David did, however, take full responsibility for his actions (22:22-23).

The book of Psalms contains several “penitential” psalms that record David pouring out his heart to God and asking for forgiveness and cleansing from his sins: Psalm 6, 32, 38, and 51.

The book of Psalms is also full of David’s petitions for God to shelter him (Psalm 11); to deliver him (Psalm 34); to protect him (Psalm 52); to be merciful to him (Psalm 56, 57); to help him (Psalm 70, 101); and to hear him (Psalm 86, 141, 142, 143). 

David truly was a man of prayer — fully expecting God to hear and answer his petitions and cries for help.

And he truly was “a man after God’s own heart” — fully trusting God to meet his every need. Is the same true for you?
7/6/2010 9:03:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments