June 2014

Explore the Bible Lesson for July 6: Hope of New Freedom

June 19 2014 by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson

Focal Passages: Ezekiel 34:2b-6, 11-16, 22-24
 
The first time I travelled internationally with my son, I remember pointing to our blue passports and saying, “There are people all over the world that would love to have one of those.” It was not my intention to be ethno-centric or to display an over-the-top patriotism. I was pointing out the simple fact that we, as Americans, enjoy a freedom not known in much of the world – a freedom that is often envied and a freedom that is sought after by many.
 
Too often, our precious freedom is taken for granted. But there is another kind of freedom that is even more precious. And it too is sadly taken for granted much of the time.
 
Ezekiel 33 contains an explanation of Jerusalem’s fall into Babylonian captivity. Many of the people in Israel misunderstood the warnings. Indeed, they heard the words, but did not put them into practice (Ezekiel 33:31). Some of the worst offenders were those who were supposed to serve and protect the people. Ezekiel 34:2-6 refers to them as “shepherds.”
 
Rather than guarding the flock entrusted to their care, they worried only about themselves. When the shepherds are negligent, the sheep suffer. They are exposed to ravenous wolves. The sheep need to be rescued.
 
What will God do, since the shepherds have abdicated their responsibility? God promises He will be the Shepherd for His people (Ezekiel 34:11). He will be the one searching for the lost sheep. He will bring them into good pasture and make sure they are fed well. He will make sure they get the rest they need. He will be the one to rescue the sheep.
 
How will God do that? He promises to provide a faithful shepherd in his servant David (Ezekiel 34:23). Not king David, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – Jesus. It is Jesus who rescues the sheep. It is Jesus who sets them free from bondage. It is a joy to experience the political freedom found in America. But, how much more to enjoy the spiritual freedom found in trusting Christ alone! That freedom that goes with you wherever you are.

6/19/2014 9:31:25 AM by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for July 6: God is Faithful

June 19 2014 by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews

Focal Passages: Hebrews 6:17-20;10:19-23
 
Each day I am reminded of my faithlessness. It is ever before me, represented in my sin against God. As the hymn goes, I am “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.” My unfaithfulness is magnified when contrasted with the faithfulness of God. Over and over again, God’s steadfast commitment to His people is displayed. He calls them to remember His wonderful deeds because – just like me – all too often, they would fail to recall His faithfulness.
 
In Genesis 15, God establishes a covenant with Abraham. The covenant was one-sided. It did not depend on Abraham at all. The Lord, represented by the smoking fire pot and flaming torch, passed between the animal halves alone. Verse 18 says, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” God was the initiator. In our Hebrews 6 passage, we are reminded of God’s promise to Abraham (Hebrews 6:13). The blood of Jesus shed on the cross symbolizes the new covenant. Just like God’s covenant with Abraham, it was a covenant that He made alone. God took on flesh and became obedient to death on a cross so that through the shedding of His blood, we may find forgiveness for our sins and be reconciled to God. We have access to God whose character is unchangeable and whose faithfulness is never ending.
 
Thus, we may take hope in the promise and the new covenant He has given us in Christ. It is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). We may have an unwavering confidence because, “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
 
Do you find yourself doubting the faithfulness of God? First, take a moment to remember His faithfulness to His promise with Abraham. Then reflect and ponder three moments in your own life when God has proved Himself faithful. Write them down and recall them to mind when your hope begins to waver. Most importantly, know that His faithfulness does not depend on you for He alone is the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

6/19/2014 9:27:36 AM by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for June 29: When Pride Turns to Greed

June 17 2014 by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson

Focal Passages: Ezekiel 28:1-5, 11-13a, 14-19
 
Pride. If you have been in a church more than a proverbial five minutes, you know pride is a bad thing. It led to Lucifer’s downfall. It led Adam and Eve astray. It plunged humanity into sin. And when someone has messed up bad and needs to get it right, we tell them to swallow their pride. It’s clear: pride is bad.
 
But, then, we tell our children to take pride in their work. When they bring home a great report card we tell our Facebook world that we are bursting with pride over how well they have done. We talk about our new granddaughter as our pride and joy. Seems confusing. Is pride bad or not? Ezekiel 28 gives us several clues.
 
In Ezekiel 28:1-5 we see the king of Tyre taken to task for his pride. The Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel and describes the king’s pride as selfish, arrogant and driven by a distorted view of himself. The king thinks himself a god. But he is reminded that he is but a mere man. Indeed, far from being a god, he is not even wiser than all other men (i.e. Daniel).This section reminds me of Paul’s words to the Philippians to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Remembering who we are is key to preventing selfish, sinful pride from taking hold in our lives.
 
Later in Ezekiel 28 (v. 11-15) the Word of the Lord came to Ezekiel in the form of a lament concerning the king of Tyre. A lament was a way to express deep sorrow. In this particular passage the sorrow is driven by the great blessings possessed by the king and his terrible misuse of them. Rather than recognizing God as his source, the king foolishly acted as if these blessings were his own doing. So foolish is his pride that Ezekiel compares him to the ultimate example of sinful, selfish pride: Satan.
 
In Ezekiel 28:16-19 we discover the result of such pride: destruction. Just as God has brought Satan low, He would make the king a spectacle. Such is always the result of sinful, selfish pride; the kind of pride that takes credit for blessings that belong to God alone.

6/17/2014 10:56:39 AM by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 29: God is Wise

June 17 2014 by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews

Focal Passages: Proverbs 2:1-6; 3:5-7
 
In 1 Kings 3, we read about Solomon’s dream at Gibeon where the Lord appeared and said, “Ask what I shall give you” (v. 5). It was an open-ended question. God did not ask whether Solomon would prefer to have riches or wisdom or check (a) long life or (b) discernment or (c) revenge on your enemies. God profoundly said, “Ask …
 
Solomon recognized that God is the source of wisdom. He recounted God’s faithfulness to his father, David, and knew the great task that lay ahead of governing God’s people. So how did he respond to God’s open-ended question? Solomon requested wisdom so that he may discern between good and evil.
 
Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Solomon counsels his son to also pursue wisdom; to seek it as silver and search for it like hidden treasures (v. 4). When someone is searching for something of value, it is an intentional, persistent search. Recently my husband and I were serving with a team in the Himalayas. We had been training local believers in a village and at the end of the day had gone down to the river for a swim. One of the missionaries lost his dental crown in the flowing water. We watched from the shore as he and others diligently combed the river bed.
 
From our perspective, it seemed hopeless. The current in the river was strong and the large pebbles that littered the river bed served as an even greater barrier. Yet, the missionary petitioned us to pray and so, obediently, we sought the Lord. Minutes later, one of the nationals found the crown.
 
If we had leaned on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), then we may have thought it was an impossible task. But the missionary exemplified diligence and persistence. Do we demonstrate that same resolve when seeking God’s wisdom? Scripture says that only then will we understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5). In what ways will you forsake your own understanding and diligently pursue the wisdom of God?

6/17/2014 10:30:34 AM by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for June 22: When Tragedy Hits Home

June 5 2014 by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson

Focal Passage: Ezekiel 24:15-27
 
Death. Sickness. Loss. Tragedy. At some point the reality of living in a fallen world will affect us all. And, we will all experience grief when it does. Some think that expressions of grief are not consistent with the gospel, so they suppress their grief. While others grieve as if the gospel were not true, often becoming angry with God or living without hope. Our grief should drive us to God for comfort.
 
In many ways Ezekiel was asked to live out (or act out) illustrations of what God’s judgment on Israel meant. In Ezekiel 24 God calls the prophet to endure the unthinkable: “Son of man, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a fatal blow” (Ezekiel 24:16). His wife was going to die. Even worse, God commands him not to publicly mourn. As hard as it may be to understand, the death of Ezekiel’s wife is analogous to the loss of the nation.
 
At the same time, Ezekiel is human and he dearly loved his wife. So even in the midst of being a living illustration of judgment, God has mercy. He tells Ezekiel to “groan quietly,” that is, to grieve in private. That is a great reminder for us that grief is a normal emotional reaction to tragedy.
 
In Ezekiel 24:15-18 we are encouraged to listen for God’s guidance in the midst of tragedy. We see that pointedly in Ezekiel’s need to receive guidance from the Lord on how to grieve the loss of his wife. Even in grief we need to listen for God’s voice of comfort and guidance.
 
Tragedy also affords us the opportunity to get to know God better. When the people see Ezekiel’s reaction to his wife’s death, they want to know more. When God’s people respond to suffering and tragedy in a way that honors God, it invites others to ask why we are reacting the way we are. Finally, Ezekiel is reminded that even in the midst of tremendous suffering, God is in control. He is working in and behind events to bring Himself glory and to draw His people close to Himself. As you face tragedy, do so in a way that will honor God and possibly open the door to share with others why you can grieve with hope.

6/5/2014 2:00:40 PM by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 22: God is Forgiving

June 5 2014 by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews

Focal Passage: 1 John 1:5-2:2
 
Think about how difficult it is to forgive someone when you have been deeply wounded. How easy it is to store that hurt in your memory and to pull it out again; to allow it to consume your thoughts and taint your perspective. Thankfully, we do not serve a God who holds grudges.
 
Instead, scripture reveals that we worship a God who is forgiving. He demonstrated a love so great that it covered not only the multitude of our sins, but the sins of the world. Psalm 103:11-12 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.
 
As we learn in this week’s lesson, God’s forgiveness brings us into fellowship with Him. We receive forgiveness at the moment of our salvation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Jesus is our peace, reconciling us to God through the cross. This is considered justification or judicial forgiveness. We do not lose the ability to sin at the moment of salvation though. We are still prone to wander. Paul touches on this in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I am already perfect …
 
This leads to another type of forgiveness needed in the life of a believer called familial forgiveness. Although we are fully reconciled to God once we place our faith in Christ, we can lose fellowship with Him because of our sin. When I sin against my parents, I do not lose my place as their daughter; it does nothing to change my actual relationship to them. It does change my relationship with them however. It is the same with God our heavenly Father. We must seek restored fellowship with Him by confessing our sins and asking for His forgiveness.
 
As believers, we have received the promised Holy Spirit, who convicts us in sin (John 16:8) but does not condemn us (Romans 8:1-2). What sins has the Spirit convicted you of this week that you need to confess to bring renewed fellowship with Him?

6/5/2014 1:52:58 PM by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews | with 0 comments



Explore the Bible Lesson for June 15: When You Want to Blame Others

June 3 2014 by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson

Focal Passages: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 21-23, 25-27, 30-32
 
America is a nation that loves to forgive. At least, that’s how is seems. When professional athletes are caught using performance-enhancing drugs, if they apologize and admit their mistakes they are welcomed with open arms. The same is true of politicians or celebrities who “misspeak.” As long as there is an apology, we are willing to forgive. But is the forgiveness we see displayed in the media really pleasing to God? I think not. Too often the apologies that we hear are filled with caveats such as “if I have offended anyone” or “if I have hurt anyone” rather than an honest acknowledgement of having genuinely been in the wrong. God desires genuine repentance and offers real forgiveness.
 
In Ezekiel 18:1-4 God confronts a proverb that was well known in Israel – “the father’s eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” The Israelites desired to shift the blame for God’s judgment on them by blaming the preceding generations. God makes it clear that each person is responsible for his or her own sin. Later in Ezekiel 18:21-23 God reveals that each person can experience forgiveness. God calls on sinful people to turn from their sin and to Him. The idea of turning is the very heart of the word “repentance.” God makes this offer of forgiveness, because He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. 

Unbelievably, there were some who thought this was unfair; too easy (Ezek 18:25-27).
 
There are those today who think that turning from their sin by trusting in Christ is too easy. But it is not “easy.” God has judged our sin in Christ on the cross. While we were still sinners and under his judgment, God provided for our forgiveness through the death of Christ (Rom 5:8).
 
What God says in Ezekiel matches up exactly with the New Testament description of salvation. If we reject His offer of salvation, we face God’s judgment alone. If we receive His gracious offer of salvation, we experience His forgiveness and receive life. Was there a time in your life when you turned from your sin to the grace and forgiveness of Christ?
6/3/2014 10:29:14 AM by Rob Pochek, senior pastor, Raleigh Road Baptist Church, Wilson | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life Lesson for June 15: God is Just

June 3 2014 by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews

Focal Passages: Ezekiel 18:21-24, 30-32
 
God commanded the Israelites through the prophet Ezekiel to forsake their sin and wickedness and to pursue righteousness. One of my favorite Hebrew words, pronounced shoob, is found in Ezekiel 18:30, 32. In English, this word is translated “repent” or “turn back.” I love the word picture that comes to mind when a person does a 180-degree turn. We recognize from this chapter that there are two directions a person can walk in – the path toward wickedness and death or the reverse, the path toward righteousness and life. God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone (Ex. 18:32). 
 
Yet God is just. He warns us through His Word that all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). There is no one righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). Apart from Christ, we are all walking the path of wickedness and death, fully deserving the wrath of God.
 
It is important to note from Ezekiel 18, that we are each responsible for our own sin. I am not penalized for the sin of my parents or my husband. I am found guilty before God because of the sin that I personally have committed. The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” This is justice.
 
In our passage, God said that the righteous will surely live.
 
As sinners, it is impossible for us to perfectly fulfill the law, so those that are not in Christ are judged for their sin and unbelief. But those who place their faith in Christ are found righteous. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Him who had no sin become sin on our behalf, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.
 
We have a choice, as implied by the “So” in verse 32. Turn, repent of your sin and live.
 
Tell others of the righteousness that is only found in Christ, lest they perish. Proclaim the good news – justice has been served on the cross. “It is finished!” (John 19:30)
6/3/2014 10:15:42 AM by Hilary Ratchford, writer, Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews | with 0 comments