March 2009

Formations lesson for April 5: Proclaim Christ’s Death

March 23 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage:  1 Cor. 11:17-32

Jesus was dead: no pulse, no breath, no blood pressure, dilated pupils, skin pallid and gray and cold.  He had passed through that moment some of us have seen in a hospital room when one second your loved one is there, and in the blink of an eye, gone. Jesus was dead.

Jesus’ movement was dead. Where were the disciples? Huddled in an upper room, the door locked and the shades drawn, trembling and afraid, lost and lonely, helpless and hopeless. It was all over. Jesus was dead, and as far as anyone could tell, so was His movement.

* * *

“You Baptists get the Lord’s Supper all wrong,” a Christian friend once told me. “For you it’s only a memorial meal, all about death.” She explained that in her church the Supper represents Christ’s living presence among and within those who gather to take it.

My friend makes a good point. I’ve been a preacher for 30 years, a Christian for 50, and a Baptist just about forever; and rarely do I preach, or hear, a communion sermon about the living and resurrected Christ present with us as we take the bread and cup. It would be good to preach and hear about that more often.

But today is Palm Sunday, this is Holy Week, and Friday is Good Friday. Easter may be right around the corner — just go to the drug store and count the chocolate eggs and stuffed rabbits — but it’s not here yet.

I once heard Professor Fred Craddock say, “You can’t have a resurrection if nobody’s dead.” He’s right, in more ways than one. You can’t have hope if you don’t know despair. You won’t understand forgiveness until you’re ready to repent. You don’t need to be saved if you think you’re not lost. You can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday. “A seed,” Paul said, “doesn’t come to life unless it dies” (1 Cor. 15:36).

* * *

Maybe that’s part of what was wrong at the church in Corinth. Some were treating the Lord’s Supper like a party. Others were using it as an occasion to exalt themselves. They were focusing on themselves, but they weren’t “examining themselves,” in Paul’s words. There was plenty of Easter, maybe, but not much Good Friday.

So Paul had to remind them: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Yes, He is coming. Easter is right around the corner. For all who would follow Him, so is abundant and eternal life. But to get to either one, something in us has to die.

“You can’t have a resurrection if nobody’s dead.”

3/23/2009 9:52:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 5: Jesus: Delusional Dreamer or God’s Messiah?

March 23 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: Luke 23: 33, 35-49

One evening, early in my tenure at First Baptist, while I was driving back to Sylva from a trip to Asheville on highway 74 I began the climb up Balsam Mountain and noticed something to my right on another peak.  

I realized as I drew closer it was a lighted cross and I later found out that a family placed it there in memory of a son that had died at a young age. Now as I drive this all too familiar route I am comforted by the sight of this cross on my journeys.  

It tells me that I am not far from home, but in that lighted cross I am also reminded that a far greater home is promised to us through what happened on the cross of Calvary.

In Luke 23:33, 35-49 the cross is the central point as Christ is taken to the place called “the Skull” and the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation is put in place.  

Many times the questions must arise concerning the events surrounding the death of Christ, and all that happened.

Why would the Savior die as a mere criminal?

Why would people be allowed to mock Him?  

This form of death was so shameful in the ancient world, but this was different. In this horrible moment Christ was raised to beauty for our sakes.

The beauty of the cross could not be hidden by a sign that mockingly proclaimed Jesus, “King of the Jews.” It only diminished the Jewish authorities who were offended by such a title.

The beauty of the cross could not be hidden by two criminals hanging beside our Savior.  

Their deeds had placed them in that moment, but as one of them realized, simply calling upon Christ opened entry to “paradise.”

Even the extreme darkness that covered the earth from noon to three could not hide the beauty of the cross.  In this time of darkness the Temple curtain was ripped apart as the way to God was to be opened by the death of Christ.  

Behind this curtain was a place called the “Holy of Holies,” in essence the place where God was to reside.

This area is referenced in Hebrews 9:3, 8.

It would now be possible to approach the Lord because of that which Christ is doing upon the cross.    

As Christ cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit,” (v. 46) His true beauty came into view to all who had witnessed the events.  

Those who had mocked, those who loved, and even a Roman centurion acknowledged His righteousness.  

Each time I climb Balsam Mountain on a clear evening and I see the lighted cross to my right I am reminded, there is a beauty in the cross.

3/23/2009 9:51:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for March 29: What Would Jesus Say about Himself?

March 18 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: John 8:39-59

One of my favorite movies is The Sandlot. The first time I saw it was on an airplane with my brother, so maybe there is a sentimental pull to it for me, but I think the story, the acting, and the cinematography are good enough to stand on their own. It is a good movie.

At any rate, one of the best scenes is when the Hamilton Porter character (the great Hambino) gets into a name-calling episode with the leader of the “organized baseball team.” They shout back and forth at each other, each trying to “one up” the last comment made until ultimately, Hamilton wins the challenge by proclaiming that his opponent plays “baseball like a girl.” That did it. Contest over.

The focal passage for this lesson reads much like a similar “one-up” challenge. The people proclaimed Abraham as their father. Jesus refuted their statement saying they are following their “real” father (the devil). The people then claim God as their father. Jesus refutes that statement by telling them they’d love Him if God was their father. He goes on to explain who their “real” father is and describes him as a liar and murderer. And then He tells them that if they loved God, they’d listen to Him. The people respond by calling Him a Samaritan devil possessed by a demon. Jesus doesn’t flinch. He refutes their claims by saying He honors His Father and that anyone who obeys His teaching will never die. The people are getting angry now. They challenge Jesus’ statements and ask Him, “Who do you think you are?”

Back and forth they go until the people pick up stones to throw at Jesus.

On the surface this schoolyard banter is puzzling. What I see is much more beautiful than any sandlot challenge. What was Jesus trying to tell us about Himself?

Jesus seems to be saying not something so much about Himself, but more about His love for us. “God sent me” he says. “I do not wish for honor and glory but to honor and glorify My Father. In Me there is eternal life. I have always been and always will be.” He is demonstrating His ability to love us more than we can understand. The compassion, understanding, hope, and perseverance in His message is truly beautiful. The love that He communicates, the deflection of honor and glory and the patience even to death is a message that came through very clearly.

Mind boggling as it is, what Jesus said about Himself really says more about His love for us.  

3/18/2009 5:42:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 29: Hang in There

March 18 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 6:1-16

A well-known concert violinist was asked the secret of her mastery of the instrument. She replied, “There are many things that used to demand my time.  When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted, and did whatever seemed necessary.

When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice. That system prevented me from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret to my success.”

The wall was nearing completion. The walls were completed in 52 days.

But, opposition still attempted to prevent success. Sanballat et al. tried every distraction to pull Nehemiah away from the work and to undermine and discredit him.

As is so often, when opposition is thwarted, the enemy will attempt to distract and draw one away from the task at hand — “Come let us meet.” Nehemiah recognized it as an intention to harm him — “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down!”

If he would not meet with them, they decided to spread rumors that Nehemiah was setting himself up as king. His response, “No such things as you say have been done!”

Since rumors and distractions would not work, they resorted to threat of physical harm and violation of the temple. A friend was used to tempt Nehemiah to flee into the temple (thus violating the temple’s sanctity calling his own integrity in question); Nehemiah resisted — “Should such a man as I flee? I will not go in!”

Plagued by distractions and discouragement, Nehemiah kept his focus and heart in constant communication with the Lord (Neh. 6:14). What resulted was the recognition that the work had been accomplished with the help of the Lord!    

“When work is pressing, there are many little things that will come and seem to need attention. It is a very blessed thing to be quiet and still, work on and entrust the little things to God. He answers such trust in a wonderful way. The believer who has no time to fret and worry and harbor care has learned the secret of faith in God. A desperate desire to change some difficult circumstance may take our eyes off God and His glory. Some suffering Christians have been so anxious to get well and have spent so much time in trying to claim healing, that they have lost their spiritual blessing. God sometimes has to teach such persons that there must be a willingness to be sick before they are yielded enough to receive His fullest blessing. The enemy keeps at this work. Sanballat came four times to Nehemiah, always receiving the same answer. How many fears we have stopped to fight which ultimately have proved to be nothing. Nehemiah recognized that fear is sin and did not dare to yield to it.” (A.B. Simpson)

3/18/2009 5:41:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for March 12: What Would Jesus Say about Evangelism?

March 12 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: John 4:31-38

Legendary teacher of homiletics Fred Craddock tells a great story that I think of every time I hear the word evangelism.

Craddock says that one day he was in a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream store.  The franchise was in those days in an ad campaign celebrating its 32 flavors. Craddock was sampling one or two of the flavors when a young man walked up to him and asked if he’d “tried Jesus.” Dr. Craddock said he couldn’t help himself. He looked at the young man and said no, and asked if he could put that flavor on his spoon please.  

Fred Craddock wasn’t belittling the young man’s efforts as much as he was laughing at himself. Craddock adds that he never thinks we should “accost people with Jesus” but that “our responsibility to tell the story is great.”  

As great as the responsibility to tell the “good news,” and as good as the news in fact is, why does it make us so uncomfortable?

Not all of us, admittedly, but a great number of us are appalled to think we might have to go face to face with someone over what we believe and/or what they should.

Some of it is the whole “talking in front of others” thing, which those who research this kind of thing tell us is the number one fear of most people. But this isn’t public speaking, it is evangelism. And it is our duty by command straight from the mouth of Jesus.  

For clarity then, we have a command to do something that we (many of us anyway) aren’t comfortable doing. In the focal passage, Jesus says that we must simply get busy. Jesus says evangelism is a part of Christian discipleship, and that each of us is part of the greater work of the kingdom. He speaks of white fields and much labor. He calls us to action, he calls us to evangelism.  

How do we define that, what does it look like in 2009, and how do we get started? Well those weren’t the questions asked here.

They need to be answered, but not having them answered the way we want isn’t an excuse not to do what God calls us to do. The bottom line is we just have to get busy.  

What would Jesus say about evangelism? He’d say just do it!

3/12/2009 3:27:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/ Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 22: Clear the Air

March 12 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage: Nehemiah 5:1-16
“Radical decisions in obedience are of course the stuff of biblical faith, but now it cannot be radical decisions in a private world without brothers and sisters, without pasts and futures, without turf to be managed and cherished as a partner in the decisions. The unit of decision-making is the community and that always with reference to the land. … The central (biblical) problem is not emancipation but rootage, not meaning but belonging, not separation from community but location within it,” said Walter Brueggemann.

Nehemiah stood defiantly in opposition against those outside powers that verbally and physically abused the fallible remnant of Israel as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Each scarred stone placed in formation was a testimony to the great and awesome God who rules and sustains His people. Though victory was still ahead of the Jewish people, progress was assured.

But, external threats were not all that plagued them. An internal problem festered creating tension and dissension (Neh. 5:1). There was a deep disparity between the condition of the common people and the privileged class of Jews.

Due to the economic situation in this radically decimated environment, it was easy for some of the more elite to take advantage of their “neighbors.” What resulted was the pledging of property and children for money to pay taxes, to buy grain and food during a time of famine.

An already subsistence situation became even more intolerable.  Brother took advantage of brother (some accounts state that rates of interest were as high as 60-70 percent with severe penalties). Thus high interest rates, stiff penalties, and virtual enslavement created political unrest and economic crisis. Not only were there economic disparities between families and neighbors, but some were even selling their countrymen to foreigners!

Nehemiah confronted this unholy injustice. Calling a meeting of the people, he demanded that the unjust usury stop. He appealed to them (Neh. 5:9b). He called the people to return the properties of the impoverished and a portion of the interest they had exacted. Nehemiah stressed the fact that they were each a vital part of the community, a family in partnership working together in becoming a people before the nations (Gentiles). The outcome was successful and the guilty agreed without reservation (Neh. 5:13).

Rather than simply dictate law, Nehemiah lived out what he demanded. As governor he had access to the lands and goods of Jewish people. He had authority to tax the people for his administration and its continuing needs.

But, instead, he placed his every need in God’s hands and used his own resources to support his leadership. He recognized that his people were God’s people and he was their servant.

“Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.”

3/12/2009 3:26:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for March 15: What Would Jesus Say about Discipleship?

March 3 2009 by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina

Focal Passage: Mark 8:34-9:1

On the third day of my third grade year of school, my teacher asked me to step out in the hall.

No, I hadn’t done anything wrong (at least not yet — it was the third day). Believe it or not, she wanted to see me walk.

This has an explainable end I promise, even one that didn’t find an educator behind bars.
My teacher knew my grandfather, knew him well enough even to know how he walked. And she thought she recognized that walk in me.

It seems some of the men in my family have this “waddle like” strut that is so distinct as to make it uniquely recognizable. My teacher knew who I was, and whose I was by the way I walked.
If only being a disciple of Christ were that easy. It isn’t.

In Mark’s Gospel account, taking up a cross, losing one’s life, and the like are the costs of discipleship. So when we ask what Jesus might say on the subject, we should start with the fact that it is costly.

Jesus made the cost of following Him clear. He spelled it out.

In this focal passage, we have Christ addressing His gang of nomadic fisherman, disgruntled nationalists, and would-be revolutionaries in words so clear and simple, even this somewhat motley crew would understand.  

He also tells us everything we need to know about how to be a disciple. In verse 34, Jesus calls for the denial of self, the taking up of His cause, and the willingness to follow Him regardless.  

I find it interesting that Jesus gave us the requirements for discipleship before He told us about the cost of discipleship, at least in this passage.

It is as if Jesus knew that the difficulty this choice to be Christ-like would bring for us (because, of course He did) and He led us to it gradually.

But I think nonetheless that as usual, in a clear and succinct way, Jesus told us all we need to know.

The whole time, He speaks as though doing it is implied, as if we might say, it was essential. I couldn’t and can’t help the way I walk; it is just the way I walk. Our following Christ ought to be just as natural.

Jesus says discipleship is difficult. Jesus says discipleship is costly. Most of all though, Jesus says discipleship is necessary.  

3/3/2009 5:26:00 AM by Shane Nixon, Director of Development/Church Relations, Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 15: Don’t Despair

March 3 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passage(s): Nehemiah 2:19-20; 4:1-14

Historian Barbara Tuchmann once insightfully wrote, “Men will not believe what does not fit with their plans or suit their pre-arrangements.” For Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, the appearance and passion of Nehemiah for Jerusalem did not fit into their schemes. As principal opponents to Nehemiah, they held territorial jurisdiction over the area (Tradition has it that Sanballat built the temple on Mount Gerizim to rival the temple in Jerusalem, John 4:20). Thus, according to Nehemiah 2:10, he and Tobiah were displeased that someone would come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

What follows is an opposition-response format in today’s text. In order to undermine the rebuilding project, they accused Nehemiah of insurrection — “Are you rebelling against the king?” (2:19). Nehemiah responds with an affirmation of divine assistance — “The God of heaven will grant us success.” Chapter three illustrates that faith response; the wall reconstruction project progresses.

When their accusations did not work, they dismiss the work derisively — “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (4:2). According to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Sanballat mocks their faith, “What do these wretched Jews think they are doing? Are they going to leave it all to God? Will they offer sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubble, even though they are burnt?” It was not enough to question Nehemiah’s motives (2:19-20), but his faith (and the Jews’) is also questioned.

In effect, Sanballat asked if they were expecting some kind of miracle! Were they expecting the stony rubble to become animated and take their place on the wall? Once more Nehemiah responds to this opposition with a prayer of lamentation — hear our enemies’ insults and bring down your judgment.

Remember their evil deeds and respond accordingly. The work continues because “the people had a mind and ‘were determined’ to work (4:6).” Opposition makes a people strong!

The accusations and ridicule are ineffective against the project; opposition intensifies with Sanballat and his cohorts plotting physical violence. Though Jerusalem is surrounded on all four sides by its enemies and the Jewish people’s resources are limited, they call to God for help and form battle lines along the walls. When word comes from the neighboring countryside of impending danger, they reinforce the wall’s open spaces and trust their Lord — “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome!” (4:14) And the wall was built!

Historian Will Durant once observed, “Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision and heroism. When she had overcome all her enemies, she flourished for a moment and then began to die.” Opposition kept Rome strong. Opposition made Nehemiah strong. In Christ, opposition can make us strong.

3/3/2009 5:25:00 AM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments